And Omari Johnson becomes the first…

Last Friday, the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Sacramento Kings 94-93.  The Grizzlies are in 14th place in the Western Conference standings, the Kings at 12th place, it was a game with no major postseason permutations.

In that game, a 6’9″ forward made his NBA debut, garnering 16 minutes of court time with the Grizzlies and pulling down two rebounds.

And in that moment, Omari Johnson made the National Basketball League of Canada proud.

Because, in seven yeaqrs of Canadian professional basketball, Omari Johnson becomes the first NBL Canada player to graduate to the NBA.

This is huge.

Omari Johnson spent two seasons in the National Basketball League of Canada.  After he finished his collegiate career at Oregon State, and after being skipped by the NBA in their entry draft, Johnson signed in 2011-12 with the Oshawa (Ont.) Power, where he averaged 17.5 points per game and nearly got the Power into the NBL’s playoffs.

The NBA took notice, and Johnson was drafted by the NBA’s developmental league Canton Charge.  A few days later, after the Charge waived him, Johnson returned to the NBL, this time signing with the Summerside (P.E.I.) Storm.  His scoring and play improved, averaging 18.8 points per game and helping the Storm reach the NBL Championship finals.

A few more years of overseas play, and a stint in the NBA’S Gatorade Developmental League with the Memphis Hustle …

And last Friday, Johnson signed a multi-year deal to play for the Hustle’s parent NBA club, the Memphis Grizzlies.  A crisp #14 “I Am A Man” Memphis alternate jersey in Omari Johnson’s new locker.

Trust me, I’ve kept an eye on our NBL Canada alumni, and we came damn close to putting an NBL player on an NBA roster several times.  Tommy Mitchell in 2011-12 started with the Quebec Kebs, then signed as a practice player with the Golden State Warriors.  Josiah Turner in 2012-13 went from the Summerside Storm to eligibility for the NBA Draft.  Devin Sweetney set a league scoring record with 1,001 points for the Moncton (N.B.) Miracles in 2013-14, then a few years later was the last surviving cut for the Denver Nuggets.  And Duke Mondy, who started this season with the Cape Breton (N.S.) Highlanders, got tagged mid-season to join the Gatorade League’s Dallas Mavericks affiliate.  We kept getting closer each and every time.

And now this.

This.  So much this.

This from his coach at Summerside, Joe Salerno.

And his first NBA post-game interview.

This is awesome.

And let me tell you, this is a sign of pride for independent professional basketball players and leagues everywhere.  I used to see this all the time back in the Continental Basketball Association days, when a team would lose their top scorer or rebounder to a 10-day contract in the NBA.  You hated that you lost your guy when your rival was coming to town, but you were thrilled that they were getting their NBA dream.

So much congratulations and success to Omari Johnson.  You are the first player to go from the NBL to the NBA.

And trust me.  With the talent in the NBL…

You will NOT be the last.