By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Seriously, Roy Williams," Johnston scolds the receiver, "can you not catch just one pass!"
Says Nowitzki, who posed with Johnston and his '07 NBA MVP trophy, "Ray's definitely one of the toughest guys I've ever met."
His basketball career over and his health in constant jeopardy, Johnston these days finds hope in music. His band—from Matthews to Pat Green—is a grassroots operation with no label or agent but a desire to spread its good ol' boy country, playing frat parties and even—last week—the flatbed of a truck out in Palo Pinto County. In the first week of September, the band was iTunes' top downloaded group without an agent.
"It's hard what I'm trying to do," admits Johnston, who says he finds motivation in his "two favorite words: You can't."
Nothing about his spirit, his substance or his energy says sympathy. Go into an interview with Johnston prepared to feel sorry for him and leave feeling guilty that he generally, consistently does more with less. You're tying up loose ends; he's beating leukemia.
"The most adult moment of my life was the day about four years ago when I was complaining about some real estate deal," close Johnston friend and Dallas real-estate broker Rogers Healy says. "I told him I'd lost some money. He told me his cancer was back. There he was, actually consoling me. The way Ray continues to spread positivity is remarkable."
It was a classic "atta boy" moment, the kind Johnston's dad always christened with the signature line from My Cousin Vinny. Ray's out of the hospital again? Atta boy. Ray's band got another gig? Atta boy. Ray's happier in sickness than most of us in health? Atta boy.
This year the Mavs bolted to a 10-3 start. But they'll never stray too far from Johnston, who, these days, makes about 20 games a year. He's busy. Or, as he likes to joke, he's got a doctor's excuse: two tumors, one under his right armpit, the other on his right thigh.
"The Mavs keep me going. Life. Music. Everything," Johnston says, his voice straining to remain audible, much less strong. "I don't like cancer, but I really hate needles. It's not a good combination. But really, I have so much to be thankful for."