Although nicknamed “the Honeycomb”, there was very little saccharine or sweet about Gus Johnson. The Baltimore Bullet was a violent force of raw power harnessed with explosive results during the 1960s.
Standing about 6’6”, Gus’s muscles were so chiseled that Greek gods and heroes of antiquity hide theirs in shame. His power game was best exemplified in the amplified force of his dunks. Very few men had ever dunked a basketball with the ferociousness that Johnson exhibited back during the mid-1960s. Certainly none had displayed such ferocity with such regularity. He’d wind up breaking a few backboards with his typhoon-like intensity.
On defense his forcefulness was not the least bit dissipated. In fact, it was likely more intense. Gus delighted in getting all the way up into an opponent’s face and putting both of his strong hands in their chest or back. He would swat your shot and rip the ball right out of your hands. Trying to go one-on-one with Gus was a recipe for disaster.
When it came time to rebound, again, Gus’ temperament was on full display. He wouldn’t just grab the rebound. He’d corral, snag, snatch… demand the ball from the air. Then he’d kick his legs and swing his elbows about to ensure no one sneaked in and stole his hard-earned board.
Gus Johnson wasn’t all brute, if skilled, force. He had a graceful jumper that seemed to be the still calm one finds in the eye of a hurricane. After all of his pushing, rebounding, and dunking, the man would loft himself up like a cloud and swish the jumper, before returning to his thunderous ways.
Baltimore Bullets guard Kevin Loughery dishes to forward Gus Johnston for the jam. This game between the Bulelts and Detroit Pistons was played at Madison Square Garden. Back in the 1950s/60s, the NBA often held double headers at MSG to showcase the league to the largest crowd possible at the time since their TV contract was so paltry.
For all of that mythological countenance, Gus Johnson was, however, a man. He muscles were chiseled like a god’s but he was still a mortal. Few players have exhibited the paradoxical duality of awesome athleticism with crippling fragility like Gus ultimately would. His knees were the main culprit and he’d battle to stay on the court for long stretches of his career.
He’d stay healthy enough, though, to make multiple all-star teams and a couple of the NBA’s All-Defensive squads (which only debuted in 1969). In his final pro season in 1973, Gus captured a title with the ABA’s Indiana Pacers as a reserve forward.
Such success and providential ability should make Johnson a household name amongst basketball fans. Indeed, the name “Gus Johnson” is widely known but when invoked it conjures up the aural boom of an announcer’s guttural calls.
Well, for those in the know, “Gus Johnson” should also, and always, invoke the rim-shaking boom of a basketball god’s dunks.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wdEf2yj7fg]
Seasons Played: 1964 – 1973
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1965-’66, 1970-’71)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1970-’71)
5x All-Star (1965, 1968 – ’71)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1964)
NBA – 581 Games
17.1 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 44.0% FG, 69.9% FT
ABA – 50 Games
6.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 44.1% FG, 73.8% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1964 – 1973)
24th FGs Made, 27th Points
9th Rebounds, 12th RPG
19th Minutes Played, 38th Games Played