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.
August 13, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
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