Miami forward James Johnson tops Kiwi Steven Adams as NBA's most-feared

Meet James Johnson - the only NBA player who can beat Kiwi Steven Adams in a fight.

At least, that's how 127 other players voted in an anonymous poll conducted by The Athletic last month and released this week.

The research quizzed participants on a range of questions related to the world's most-hyped basketball league - who would win the championship, this season's Most Valuable Player, the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), overrated and underrated players, best and worst coaches etc.

Among Kiwi fans, the most relevant category was 'Who don't you want to fight?'

At the start of the current season, Oklahoma City Thunder centre Adams was voted toughest player in the league by team general managers and we all puffed out chests out with pride.

Of course, we Kiwis are a hardy breed.

But GM's don't actually have to trade elbows (and fists) out on the court - players know better.

Obviously, they still respect the Rotorua seven-footer. In his early NBA years, he developed a reputation for getting the under skin of even the most wily veterans - we're looking at you Vince Carter and Zach Randolph - while shrugging off the dirty stuff dished out to him in retaliation.

He's still the second-most feared among other players and 19.7 percent isn't a bad endorsement.

But Johnson is a clear winner (43.8%) and for good reason.   

By the time he attended Wake Forest University, the 2.03m power forward's reputation had already preceded him. He was a karate black belt.

His mum and dad were both karate black belts. Seven of his eight siblings were also black belts - his 10-year-old sister was only a blue belt, but she caught up later.

Johnson had already won nine US national karate titles and seven world crowns. He also had a 20-0 kickboxing record and has since added seven unbeaten mixed martial arts appearances.

He's never been beaten officially - oh, and his childhood nickname was 'Bloodsport'.

Little wonder other players don't really want to mess with him.

In February, Johnson told Fanatics View that he still incorporated his passion for fighting into his basketball training.

"It's a great workout for me," he said. "The only down part is that I know I'm not training to compete - I'm training to get into better shape with something different than running lines on a basketball court.

"I have Brazilian jiu-jitsu, my stand-up game is nice… I've been fighting my whole life. How kids train for basketball up to college, that's how I was with fighting."

Would he consider an MMA comeback once his basketball career is over?

"Absolutely, that's my first love," he said. "The fighter mentality, the fighter heart, it never goes."

The Miami Heat veteran, 32, gets into scuffles on the court, usually protecting his teammates, but players and officials will quickly step in to prevent any real damage being done.

"I'm sure there's someone out there in this world who can beat me," he told Sports Illustrated. "I haven't met him yet."

When he played for the Toronto Raptors, Johnson stunned teammates, when he dislodged three basketballs stuck in one basket - with a flying karate kick.

"He looked like a ninja warrior," recalled strength & conditioning coach Francesco Cuzzolin. "He was jumping in the air, spinning 360 and kicking the balls in the net.

"His head was over the rim, his legs were splitting and he's kicking the balls. It was something I've never seen in my life."

Apparently, Johnson once broke seven bricks with one fist-punch.

"Who you are precedes you," explained former NBA star Jalen Rose, on his ESPN show Jalen & Jacoby. "A scouting report is just that.

"I know everything about you - I know where you're from, I know your nickname, I know where you went to college, I know your strengths, I know your weaknesses.

"I know if you like to drive with your left hand, I know if you can drive with your right hand - and I know if you're on the All-Dark Alley Team."

Johnson is undisputed captain of that team, Adams retains a spot in the starting line-up.


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