Assist, Avery

Diminutive Mavs coach gives New Orleans evacuees a huge lift

Rejected as too small, Johnson went undrafted by the NBA in '88. He started his pro career in the United States Basketball League and eventually signed with the Seattle SuperSonics, only to change teams six times in his first six NBA seasons. In 1990 he was cut on Christmas Eve--by the San Antonio Spurs, the same team he would lead to a championship in 1999 by hitting the title-clinching baseline jumper in New York.

In an underdog career that made a late stop in Dallas, Avery elevated his performance with passion and persistence in a league dominated by 7-footers. Goofballs like Dennis Rodman listened to his guidance, and NBA general managers coveted his coaching acumen.

You get the feeling Johnson will be shepherding two teams this season--the Mavericks and the Evacuees.

"These people survived for a reason," said Avery, who coached a team of NBA stars in a benefit game last weekend in Houston. "They've got a chance to recover and become an asset. But they're still going to need help. After the cameras are gone. After the charity drives have stopped. When it's 18 months from now."

And who is it that will still be dishing out the assists? Avery Johnson.

Dat's who.

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