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The unexpected Polynesian connection between James Johnson of the Heat and Steven Adams of the Thunder

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James Johnson’s colorful past before the Miami Heat includes tidbits about his Samoan background.

NBA: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

During a Miami Heat versus Oklahoma City Thunder game, Steven Adams noticed a Samoan tattoo on James Johnson’s calf.

When Adams questioned him “oh uce?” and Johnson answered “sup uce,” Adams said, “I was like ‘what the? You’re the man.’”

Adams has some Tongan blood in him and Johnson’s mom, Vi Johnson, hails from Leone, Samoa, Both nations are in the 1,000-island Polynesian archipelago, which includes Hawaii and New Zealand.

In that part of the Pacific Ocean people use “uce” for a close friend or bro, and “sup uce” means “what’s up bro,”

The fighting spirit remains in Polynesian athletes, who resemble football players without the padding and protective gear.

In this rugby match Samoan players perform the Siva Tau, and Tongans the Sipi Tau war dance, where each Polynesian team performs their own version before a match.

Now if the NBA had pregame rituals like that before games, it would be quite a spectacle.

C.J. Williams found out the hard way what happens when the normally quiet Adams gets upset in a game, after he pushed and tripped Adams.

Johnson’s mother came to the United States at an early age, where she married Johnson’s dad in Oceanside, California and raised JJ, before the family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The son of an African American ex-Marine (Willie) and a Samoan mother (Vi) who came to the United States when she was 17, Johnson has six brothers and two sisters, and all but one has a black belt in martial arts.

Johnson still has the quickness and strength reminiscent of his fighting days.

”He’s an incredible athlete, and no question that stems from his young fighting background,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said in a phone interview. “That background lent to his dexterity and terrific footwork for a kid his size.

”He can stand flat-footed, do a flip in the air and land on his feet. Someone wanted to film him one time running up the wall and doing a double flip. I said no way.”

Besides the martial arts, Johnson’s pretty good at basketball also.

DeAndre Jordan and Zach Randolph’s reactions to the dunk say it all.

No wonder James Johnson handles the ball with ease because like Kelly Olynyk, he started as a point guard in high school before his size transitioned him into the forward spot.

SLAM: Were you a tall kid? What position were you at that point?

JJ: I was a guard. I was a 6-4 guard. I didn’t really get my growth spurt until about 10th grade.

SLAM: Did you have any basketball mentors in high school?

JJ: Not really, it was just all heart. Not wanting to have anybody better than me. My father always tried to say, when I was growing up, that I’m fortunate to have martial arts so when I did end up getting tall, I had mobility and was able to move flexibly. I wasn’t one of those tall, lanky kids that needed fundamentals or anything like that.

SLAM: Was there any notable place that you think was important for your development?

JJ: Yeah, I would definitely say when my older brothers would take me to the rec center with them, and they were always yelling: “Get stronger!” “What are you doing?!” “We’re losing because of you!” You don’t want to let your brothers down, and that’s why I got good. Now it’s the opposite, and I tell them the same thing when we go to the rec and play, like, We’re losing ‘cause of you!

Seems like JJ has something in common with Justise Winslow, whose older brothers schooled him on basketball life at an early age.

“There’s definitely a lot of athletes in the family, so being the youngest, it was kind of cool and kind of tough,” he said. “I got picked on, beat up on by my older siblings … but it made me stronger, made me mentally tougher.

“But as an athlete, losing a lot because you’re the youngest, you’re not as big and strong and fast as your siblings, getting picked last and just trying to find a way to win and keep it competitive, I think that’s where my competitive nature comes from. Just from trying to figure out how to compete and keep up with my siblings.”

Maybe some tough love about winning championships from the OG Udonis Haslem could bring out the best from the team this season.