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Bullets legend Gus Johnson enters Hall of Fame


It's been nearly 38 years since he played his last NBA game, so few people in this current generation of basketball enthusiasts -- myself included -- truly have an appreciation for Gus Johnson as he heads into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame tonight. For some of us, all that we have is grainy footage from old NBA films that don't really show just how he was athletic, creative and ahead-of-his time with above-the-rim play. He had a flashy game and a shiny gold tooth to boot.

Johnson certainly is overshadowed, with a Hall of Fame class that includes Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" and the 1960 Olympic Team. But he spent nine seasons with the Baltimore Bullets, making five all-star teams, and is among four jerseys that hang in the rafters at Verizon Center. He averaged 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in 9½ NBA seasons (he played briefly for Phoenix and later with the Indiana Pacers in the ABA) and is being recognized more than 23 years after he died at age 48 of an inoperable brain tumor.

Nicknamed "Honeycomb" because his game was so sweet, Johnson finally joins Nate Thurmond, his former high school teammate at Akron Central-Hower in Springfield, Mass. Thurmond told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Johnson was better than him, adding, "To me, an injustice has been corrected. Gus was one of the best basketball players ever to play in the NBA."

And now, at long last, he gets his moment.

NBA.com's Fran Blinebury reflected on Johnson's career recently. He wrote:

In the 1970s, he'd have been a cult figure whose legend traveled by word of mouth across the land.
In the 1980s, he'd have been the kind of breakout star that lifted a league into the mainstream of sports consciousness.
In the 1990s, he'd have become a regular staple on SportsCenter and now, finally, Johnson, who died at age 48 of inoperable brain cancer in 1987, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2010.
Johnson could run like an Arabian stallion and jump like a frightened bullfrog. He was quick enough to beat even the swiftest of point guards down the floor and strong enough rip a basket right out of the Plexiglass backboard, which he did at least twice in NBA games.
They called him "Honeycomb" because he was sweeter than a bee's knees and he also happened to have had a gold star on one of his front teeth until it was knocked out by an opponent's flying elbow while battling for a rebound.
As both a player and personality, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Johnson was as ahead of his time as a spaceman running around in the days of the dinosaurs, and maybe that's why it's taken so long for him to just his just recognition.

By Michael Lee  |  August 13, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
 
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Comments

Yay Gus!

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | August 13, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Honeycomb was a badass mofo!

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | August 13, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Jordan, Dr. J., Honeycomb led the way. God Bless Gus!

Posted by: natetheskate9@hotmail.com | August 13, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Oh, how I long for the days of the Baltimore Bullets. Were it not for Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) & the Big O being on that same Milwaukee team - and what a tandem those two were! - Gus Johnson would've had at least one NBA championship ring.

Posted by: shanks1 | August 13, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I never witness that era but GJ was the 'specimen' of that era.
Congrats to the bullets alum.

Posted by: Rocc00 | August 13, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

It's about time. It's hard to believe that it was 23 years ago when his jersey was hung from the rafters of the Capital Centre. At least he got that honor while he was still alive.

Posted by: didnik | August 13, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Thurmond and Blinebury had it exactly right about Gus. He probably was the
first player to shatter a backboard, around 1970, in Milwaukee. The dunk wasn't all that special, but it was like a gunshot--the glass shattered and stayed in place. Delayed the game for about an hour. His playoff battles with the Knicks' Dave DeBusshere were like Russ Grimm vs. Randy White. The honor is long overdue.

Posted by: civiccenter | August 13, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I say change the name back to the Bullets and have training camp in Baltimore. Nothing wrong with history and tradition.

Changing the name might have been like outa sight outa mind. Gus Johnson was bad and those Bullet teams in Baltimore was something else.

Political correctness can screw things around to no end. Who is propagating the legacy of the Baltimore Bullets when we call ourselves the Wizards?

It's that same franchise, but Mr. Pollin unwittingly packed the Bullets away in the attic chest.

Get the chest out of the attic and rename the team back to the Bullets.

With Gus Johnson, they went to four NBA championships, Four, people. They did not win one of them, but this Wizard team has only went so far as the 2nd round.

Political correctness, Phewy! Phewy! Phewy!

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | August 13, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

And while I am touting my horn they should petition the league to have the original Baltimore Bullets added to their legacy.

They were named for the team in case you didn't know and did play in the same city.

Get the legacy of the Bullets all the way out front and center and maybe it wouldn't take so long for a player like Gus Johnson to be recognized in the first place.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | August 13, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I loved watching Gus Johnson as a kid growing up in Baltimore. Congratulations to Gus, his family and the entire Bullets/Wizards family for enshrining him in the HOF.

Posted by: JohnnyU2Berry | August 14, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Too bad Abe wasn't around to see it. I know it was always a sad thing for him that Gus was not recognized for his talent and flair, and being a pioneer in the league.

Posted by: dbrine1261 | August 14, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Larry in Clinton - Do your homework. Bullets went to ONE NBA final with Gus, in 1971. He did a get a ring with the Indiana Pacers in the ABA a few years later.
For those of you who actually did see him play, he truly was a special player. He always guarded the best forward on the opposing team (Billy Cunningham,Dave DeBusshere, Connie Hawkins)and was a terrific rebounder. And make on mistake, he WAS the ringleader on that team - not Earl, Unseld or Kevin Loughery. The knee injuries affected his game, but he could still sky along with another high flying contemporary of the 60's & 70's, Elgin Baylor.
He brought the swagger to the Bullets, and they were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA at that time. Congrats to the Honeycomb!

Posted by: JohnnyDB | August 15, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Gus was the first player I've ever saw to shatter a fiberglass board!!!

Posted by: merrimac238 | August 16, 2010 2:17 AM | Report abuse

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