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Celebrating Vickie Johnson’s career at center court, on the sidelines

Jun 21, 2021

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By Tamryn Spruill

For the first time since Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith overcame a late-season slide to help the Dallas Wings claim the final slot in the 2018 WNBA Playoffs, the team has returned to contending form.

New head coach Vickie Johnson has guided the Wings (6-7) to seventh place in the standings and wins over the Los Angeles Sparks, the Minnesota Lynx and the Seattle Storm, plus two victories over the Phoenix Mercury.

It takes one phenomenal guard to know one, so it is no surprise that Johnson — who as a player displayed a basketball IQ that is high beyond measure — is now bringing the very best out of Arike Ogunbowale, the league’s 2020 leading scorer.

In the WNBA’s inaugural matchup on this day in 1997, Johnson’s 13 points, 8 rebounds (5 off the offensive glass), 2 assists and 1 steal helped the New York Liberty upset the Los Angeles Sparks inside the famed Great Western Forum.

She went on to play the first nine seasons of her WNBA career with the Liberty, where she quickly became a fan favorite. And when the guard/forward — drafted 12th in the second round of the 1997 Elite Draft — tallied her 3,000th career point, the owner of the historic Carnegie Deli named a sandwich after her: the VJ Classic: a 3,000-calorie creation stuffed with turkey, three cheeses (muenster, American, Swiss), tomato, honey mustard and mayo.

Photo courtesy of Tamryn Spruill

 

Johnson was presented with the two-pound sandwich in June 2005 during what would become her last season in New York.

And before attempting a bite, the Louisiana native noted the cultural significance of the creation.

“It’s a great honor,” Johnson said. “People like Rosie O’Donnell, Becky Hammon and Liz Smith have sandwiches named after them. I’m not even from New York, so it’s a great honor to have a sandwich named after me here.”

But it turns out Sandy Levine, the owner of Carnegie Deli, was more committed to Johnson than the Liberty organization. “This sandwich will stay on our menu until Vickie scores 10,000 points,” Levine said. “Then we will create something even bigger.”

Sadly, the quintessential Manhattan eatery closed in 2020.

But Johnson plans to cement her basketball legacy in other ways, several hundred miles away from where she built her legacy as a player. Joining the Wings franchise after two consecutive losing seasons under Brian Agler, Johnson has built a team already flashing an ability to beat the very best, and the expectation that the Wings will fly into championship conversations in the imminent seasons to come.

And if the Wings make it back to the playoffs this season, Johnson should be considered the leading contender for WNBA Coach of the Year because of the new life she has breathed into a once-languishing franchise.

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