In the Chinese tradition of Taoism, there are eight legendary xian who became immortal by following the way of Tao. Each of the Eight Immortals represents a different facet of humanity and had unique powers — as well as unique paths to immortality. For the 2014 All-Star Profiles, I took a look at the Eight Immortals of the NBA. Joe Johnson is He Xiangu, born of nobility and unencumbered by the world.
Okay, let’s get this out there right off the bat: He Xiangu was female. Of the Eight Immortals, she was the only one who was definitely female. But gender ain’t nothing but a number, or something like that, and it’s insignificant here. The link between He Xiangu and Joe Johnson is wealth.
When discussing Johnson, it’s important to remember that he didn’t really ask for any of this. Sure, he left Phoenix in search of a bigger payday, but he can hardly be blamed for that. It was never Johnson’s choice to hand him one of the richest contracts in the league. And it wasn’t Johnson’s choice to be named an All-Star this year. There’s an active dislike for Johnson among NBA fans, though, and it stems from this embarrassment of riches. The feeling is that he doesn’t deserve — whatever that word means — to be paid so handsomely or to be SEVEN-TIME ALL-STAR JOE JOHNSON. He’s essentially been handed the title of basketball immortal without earning it.
The dirty little secret, though, is that Joe Johnson is a really good basketball player. You don’t want him as the main attraction for your offense, but is there any doubt that a Joe Johnson removed from his cap figure could be part of a title-winning team? He plays well off the ball and shoots 37% from deep. Give him a ball handler and a big to suck in defenses, and Johnson rightly is an All-Star. It’s just that pesky dollar amount that blinds so many to his value.
He Xiangu seemingly had the world handed to her as well. She was born to noble parents, and that fact dominates tales of her existence as an Immortal. In fact, very little mythology exists around He Xiangu that doesn’t center on her wealth. As someone whose family was able to support her, she had no need to marry and stayed single for her entire mortal life; she carried a lotus and represented single women. Like Joe Johnson, then, she never got a ring. When she was a teenager, she dreamed of going to the mother-of-pearl mountains, where a spirit instructed her to grind a pearl into mica and consume the powder. She did as instructed, and the pearl made her immortal. He Xiangu was so defined by luxury that even her path to immortality sounds like the kind of thing the ultra-rich would do on a lark.
For many of the Eight Immortals, immortality meant an opportunity to help those most in need. He Xiangu instead spent her time in the mountains, picking berries for her mother and living a simple existence. The circumstances of her being never affected her. Riches of the Earth might define a person in the eyes of many, but He Xiangu merely wanted to be — to live with her family, picking berries and being happy.
You might not like the fact that Joe Johnson makes so much money. You might not like the fact that he’s an All-Star. But he doesn’t mind. He’s just gonna keep playing basketball to the best of his abilities. There are plenty of berries to be picked, and Joe’s going for them all.