BF #10: Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson

[Editor's Note: Taking a break from ADAW to give you part 11 of a 20-part series.  The following was written by Romans12 yikes, I mean LoneWiz54, a regular both here and on HH.   Jake is up next with Moses Malone. -PM]

When I think of Gus " Honeycomb" Johnson, I think of a great athlete and basketball player that  was spectacular and not given the credit he deserves.  Gus Johnson was a player whose high flying act was on par with Dr. J and Connie Hawkins.  At 6'6" 235lbs, Johnson had the physical structure of a NFL tight end.  He was without a doubt the most muscular and strongest player of his time.   During a close to 9 year period ('63-'72), the man with the gold star in one of his front teeth, was widely considered the second best power forward in the NBA  next to top 50 player and Hall of Fame member Dave DeBusschere.  The battles between Johnson and DeBusschere during the regular season and playoff were the type movies and books are written about.  

For those that have never seen him play, Gus Johnson was "Charles Barkley" (Charles in Philly and Phoenix after the big weight loss) before there was a "Charles Barkley".  He had amazing leaping ability for his height, and was as strong as two Army tanks. A great shot blocker and one of the first players to be able to hold a basketball with one hand, wave it around to fake his opponent, and end the play with a swooping, powerful, 3 times backboard shattering, dunk.  Only MJ, Dr J and Connie Hawkins have been able to handle the ball in one hand and maneuver to the rim with the same grace and power of Gus "HoneyComb" Johnson.

The follow quotes are taken from article entitled "How Great Was Gus Johnson?" written in 1997 by Marlin Smith.

Gus was considered by many to be the prototype of the modern NBA player. He was known for his showboating (he had a gold star in his front tooth) both on and off the court. He was one of the first to dunk and shattered three NBA backboards in his career. He had acrobatic moves and shots. Although his main thing was assists, rebounding and defense, he is often compared to Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. High praise? You bet, and not just from Missildine. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called one of Gus Johnson's backboard shattering dunks "one of the greatest basketball plays ever.

Earl Monroe said the following.

Gus was ahead of his time, flying through the air for slam dunks, breaking backboards and throwing full-court passes behind his back. He was spectacular, but he also did the nitty gritty jobs, defense and rebounding. With all the guys in the Hall of Fame, Gus deserves to be there already.

Current Bullets Wizards owner Abe Pollin said this.
I first saw Gus on television...I had never seen a player dominate a game so. Gus was the Dr. J of his time and anyone that ever had the privilege to see him play will never forget what a great basketball player Gus Johnson was." And from Butch Komives, "You've got to remember he was only 6-6. But he had the strength to play Wilt Chamberlain and the quickness to guard Oscar Robertson. No one played the Big O tougher. In my book, Gus was better than Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry or Dr J.  He did it all and never backed down from anyone.

[Ed: This is still from that 1997 book. -PM]

No wonder lines formed for hours before game-time outside Memorial Gym to watch Gus play and fans hung from the rafters. No wonder he's a legend at the Corner Club. There, while mingling with students and fans in 1963, Gus was challenged by someone to demonstrate his leaping ability. Standing flat footed, Gus jumped up and slapped a beam on the ceiling where a nail was driven in. For years, many tried, including Bill Walton, but the nail remained untouched until Joey Johnson, the little brother of Dennis Johnson grabbed it and bent it in 1986.

How high was the nail? The Tribune reporter that wrote an article about it measured it at 11 feet, 6 inches. But, remember, Gus Johnson was greater than his legend. While in the NBA, only Gus Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and "Jumpin" Johnny Jackson of the Harlem Globetrotters could pick a quarter off the top of the backboard. That's a leap of 13 feet in the air."

 

Via the University of Idaho photo archive

Many times an NBA All-Star, Gus Johnson averaged 17.4 points and 12.7 rebounds in during his NBA career.  Tragically, Gus Johnson died in 1987 from inoperable brain cancer.  The Basketball Hall of Fame has yet to include his name among its members. It is not complete until the name Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson is added.

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