It's been a busy couple weeks for local sports legends. Last weekend, Russ Grimm was inducted into the NFL hall of fame. Now, it's former Bullets great Gus Johnson's turn. For those of you too young to remember Johnson in his prime, check out this excellent article from NBA.com.
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.
It's long overdue, but Gus Johnson is finally being recognized. More quotes after the jump.
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. He averaged 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game in his 10-year NBA career (1963-73), nine spent with the Baltimore Bullets, was a five-time NBA All-Star and a four-time member of the All-NBA team.
Johnson could hold his own in the low post against the well-known frontline stars of the day, (Elgin) Baylor and (Connie) Hawkins, and was quick enough to guard Oscar Robertson away from the basket.
Then, a story which sounds more like an urban legend.
Once at a bar called "The Corner Club" in Moscow (Idaho), Johnson was hanging out with some other students. He was challenged to a bet by Herm Goetz, the owner, and won it by leaping flat-footed to touch a beam high up near the ceiling. The spot he touched was measured at 11-feet, 6-inches. Goetz hammered a nail into the spot and offered a free drink to anyone who else who could touch it. Many tried. Even a young Bill Walton failed and no one accomplished the feat until 1986. Goetz reportedly promptly paid off and then raised the nail up a half-inch.
Nobody ever accused Bill Walton of being an explosive leaper, but he was still 7' tall. Pretty impressive stuff.
Check out the rest of the article for more information, and stories, about Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson.