Brooklyn Boro

There’s life after basketball for the ‘Microwave’

July 31, 2023 Andy Furman
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There is life after basketball.

Financial life — even after playing in the NBA.

And FDR High School graduate Vinnie Johnson has proved it.

Known as the Microwave, Johnson had an uncanny ability to score points quickly off the bench.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Today, he’s one of the greatest businessmen in NBA history.

After a professional career in which he won two titles with the Detroit Pistons, he retired in 1992. He earned $5 million in career earnings.

He’s worth $400 million today.

The Piston Group — an automobile supply company — was Johnson’s brainchild. Soon, it became a supplier for Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota and Chrysler.

In fact, Piston Group turns over $3 billion annually, according to Celebrity Net Worth, and is one of the world’s largest minority-owned businesses.

“I really wanted to get into business and create some jobs and opportunities,” the 66-year-old Johnson told Baylor Magazine in 2013. “I wanted to do something different outside of basketball, but the main thing was giving back to the city of Detroit for all the support they have given me.”

The year was 2001 — that’s when Piston Group formed joint ventures with Lear Corp., Continental and Sachs Automotive.

That’s when things started spiraling upward for Johnson, who serves as the company’s chairman and CEO.

“We learned some things in those ventures,” he told the magazine, “and when they ended in 2005, we focused on Piston Automotive and doing chassis assembly work for the Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (Chrysler) and some of the Tier One suppliers, and continued to grow.”

After his career at FDR, in 1975 Johnson played for McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas.

He was the star player there for two years and led the team to the NJCAA national tournament in 1976-77 season. He averaged 29 points per game and was named a junior college All-American.

The following years he transferred to Baylor University — also in Waco. He was a two-time All-American at Baylor — played there in 1977-78 and ’78-’79 and averaged 24.1 points-per-game in both seasons.

In fact, he is still the school record holder in points-per-game in his two seasons. He also holds the school record for most points scored per game.

He scored 50 points against TCU in 1979.

Johnson was drafted seventh overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1979 NBA draft. Early into the 1981 season he was traded to the Detroit Pistons.

The Microwave was also dubbed “007” after sinking a 14-foot shot with 0.7 seconds left on the clock to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 92-90 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The Microwave moniker was given after he scored 22 points in the fourth quarter during a 102-99 victory over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals in May, 1985.

“If that guy in Chicago (William Perry) is the Refrigerator, then Vinnie Johnson is the Microwave,” Celtics guard Danny Ainge said when it was over.

That shot gave the Pistons their second championship in as many years.

But The Piston Automotive Group may very well be Vinnie Johnson’s legacy. Here’s a quick breakdown of the growthy over the years.

1996: $1 million
2010: $326 million
2015 $1.2 billion
2017 $1.7 billion
2019 $2.88 billion
2020: $2.9 billion

The Piston Group does more than assemble auto parts. It is a leading developer in the technology that improves upon that manufacturing and the products themselves.

The company developed the Irvin system that combines technology, design and engineering to manufacture the best materials on the market. At the same time, Piston’s development of the Detroit Thermal System has proven to be an industry leader. Providing the ultimate in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning within vehicles.

Vinnie Johnson scored 11,825 points in his career, and his No. 15 jersey was retired by the Pistons in 2019.

His Piston Group success supersedes all that.

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