NBL: Jon Johnson – A career bleeding green

When you think of the Westminster Warriors, you think of Jon Johnson.

Since 2007, Johnson has been the heart and soul of the team, with a passion for making those around him better, embodying the true spirit of leadership.

He guided Westminster through the good times, most recently a 22-0 unbeaten league season in the 2021/22 NBL2 South. 

During the bad times, when the club was close to folding, Johnson took it upon himself to become player-coach and not only guide the men's team but also nurture the budding talents of the junior players, igniting within them a sense of pride and brotherhood.

But all storied careers must have endings, and after 15 wonderful seasons of bleeding green, Johnson is stepping away. 

"I am just at a place where I don't feel like I can put 100 percent into the Warriors anymore, for various reasons, and ultimately, I love this team too much to accept less than 100 percent," Johnson said.

"The Warriors is my adult basketball home. I will miss everything about the team. But I am still going to be around and present and the biggest fan of the team. Always."

"As a team-mate, Jon's infectious enthusiasm and an unwavering pursuit of excellence fuelled the collective spirit of the club, fostering an environment where each member aspired to reach greater heights," Westminster forward Justin Hitchman added. 

"His tenure as a men's player-coach was marked by a generosity of spirit. He provided countless players with opportunities to showcase their skills at the Division One level, propelling their careers forward and leaving an indelible mark on their journeys."

How it all began

In 2007, Johnson was a fresh-faced 18-year-old who applied for a scholarship at London South Bank University. One of the requirements was to play for a National League team.

Already a junior player at East London Royals, Johnson needed a senior team to continue his progression.

"At the time, Andy Powesland and Steve Alexander from Brixton Topcats and Westminster Warriors, respectively, were both recruiting," he explained.

"Being from East London, the thought of travelling South was a lot less attractive than travelling West, so I gave Warriors a shot and never looked back."

Starting his senior playing career in NBL4, Johnson led the Warriors to Division One in just five years, averaging 12.6 points a game. As he matured, those numbers kept rising.

In the 2016/17 season, Johnson posted a career-best 23.8 points a game on 44 per cent shooting, not enough to help Westminster from relegation back to NBL2, but his drive and willingness to help the team on the court were there to see.

Disappointment turned to jubilation shortly after as the Warriors claimed back-to-back Patrons Cup titles to bring deserved silverware to the capital.

Johnson claimed MVP honours in 2018 with an exceptional triple-double of 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a narrow 86-85 win over the Thames Valley Cavaliers.

Johnson followed that with a 98-64 victory the following year against a young Ipswich side with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Johnson (middle right, front row) celebrating the 2019 Patrons Cup

A community figure

Perhaps Johnson's finest moment on the court was his side's run to an unbeaten league season in NBL2 South, going a perfect 22-0 to mark a glorious return to NBL1. He also ranks ninth overall for career points scored in D1M since digital records began in 2004/05 with 2,477, courtesy of Dave Owen Basketball.

However, his finest moment overall is what he can do to help the next generation and the people around him. Not just to be better on the court but to be role models in society. 

For Johnson, a teacher by trade, that's his most significant trophy.

"Jon shared his passion for basketball, imparting invaluable skills and wisdom to the next generation," said Hitchman. 

"His efforts went beyond the classroom, as he instilled in his students not just the techniques of the game but also the values of teamwork, perseverance, and sportsmanship.

"Through his involvement with many local organisations, he was a community figure that young people could look up to for inspiration."

What's next for Johnson? Following the Warriors' last game of the season, where he scored 19 points in an 89-82 loss to Richmond Knights, where does he go from here?

"I have no plans," Johnson admits. "The only thing happening in basketball for me will be the GB Maxi over 35s Euro competition this summer, and of course the best summer tournament in Ball Out.

"I want to completely step away from basketball so I can make decisions from a place of peace and clarity.

"I am basketball. Basketball has been a part of my life for the best part of 23 years. I don't think I could ever not have a massive passion for the game. If and probably when I do continue with the game, I just want to play without the pressure."



Words by John Hobbs

Main image credit - GB Maxibasketball