NBA's 72 "Greatest" Moments: Gus Johnson Demolished by Wilt Chamberlain
This qualifies as one of the 72 “Greatest” Moments in NBA History
Gus Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain were two of the most athletically gifted NBA players of the 1960s. Wilt’s exploits are more well-known, but Johnson was no slouch himself. For instance this monstrous putback dunk versus the St. Louis Hawks.
With that kind of ferocious power, it is unsurprising that Johnson also smashed a backboard to pieces with one of his dunks. That particular ferocious dunk also came against the Hawks.
Johnson was quite pleased with himself after the muscular effort.
Johnson, who tied a personal season mark for smashing backboards (he broke one last year at Oakland, Calif., against San Francisco) said, “I wish they’d give it to me. I’d like to have it for my den.”
“They won’t need it now, that’s for sure,” agreed his teammate, Gary Bradds.
And in the Bullets’ very next game, Johnson left fans thrilled once more. To the Miami Herald, dated November 27, 1964, we go!
In a dazzling display, Johnson scored 40 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and assisted on seven more baskets as the Baltimore Bullets whipped the Cincinnati Royals 125-116 in a National Basketball Association game. …
Johnson capped his night, and left the fans limp, with a behind-the-back full court pass to Don Ohl for his final assist. That was too much even for Gus. He broke down and chuckled.
Johnson several times dribbled away from the pack on a fast break and dunked the ball after a final prodigious leap. That’s the kind of shot which ripped the rim from its moorings and shattered the glass backboard in St. Louis.
“Gus was better than sensational,” Bullet team captain Walt Bellamy said after the game. “That last pass really captivated the audience. Honeycomb Johnson’s nickname is the greatest thing since Bubble-up.”
Well, for all his physical abilities, Johnson wasn’t about to outclass Chamberlain when it came to raw physical strength. And that’s no dig on Gus. It’s just a fact. Plenty of players from the 1960s and 1970s marveled that Wilt never killed or maimed a man on the court.
Earl Lloyd, who decided to retire after seeing Wilt’s physical greatness on the hardwood, summed up Chamberlain’s strength and the mercy he showed.
I think of Wilt’s strength and I remember how guys would beat on him, pull his pants, and he just took it. The fact that Wilt was so even-tempered made you believe in the Lord. If he had been mean, the league would have had to take up a collection for protection money.1
Well, that ain’t mean Wilt never hurt nobody. Case in point, Gus “Honeycomb” Johnson. The hurt came on a regular basketball play, though. Wasn’t no fisticuffs or mayhem.
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The hurtin’ came on November 25, 1966.
Johnson’s Baltimore Bullets were hosting Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers won the game, 129-115, as they were on their way to 68 victories and the NBA title that season. Chamberlain had one of his greatest performances with 41 points, 19 rebounds, and four assists. He got the 41 points on 16-17 FGs and 9-11 FTs. Just a straight up wrecking of the Bullets.
Johnson was matching Wilt play-for-play with 23 points, eight rebounds, and four assists… before he got sent to the sidelines in the second quarter by Chamberlain.
To the Baltimore Sun we turn for the details.
According to reporter Charles Rayman, Johnson “had just taken charge with a 2-minute, 11-point demolition act” that tied the game at 44. Johnny Green snared a rebound and threw an outlet pass to the speeding Johnson, who was ready for one of his super fastbreak dunks. Trouble was Wilt was waiting for him.
Gus took off from the free-throw line for a Honeycomb stuff, but Wilt blocked it and sent Gus staggering to the court with a numb right shoulder that appeared to be dislocated.
Johnson left the game with his right arm dangling loosely at his side, and the 76ers raced to a 10-point 54-44 bulge before the Bullets could score again.
True to form, Chamberlain was a bit embarrassed at the physical strength he exhibited. He never wanted to be viewed as WILT THE GOLIATH. Well, separating a dude’s shoulder while blocking his dunk attempt will do that and Wilt was sheepish after that game.
“I was right there under the basket on that play, and he had to stuff it; that was the shot,” said Wilt. “I was foolish to try to stop it.”
“He had a clear dunk, and he was coming down, which gave him a lot of power. You know during the heat of a game it’s bang-bang. I didn’t think should I or shouldn’t I try to block it.”
“It’s a dangerous play. It was definitely a mistake on my part. That’s the way you get a hand broken.”
In contrast, Johnson acknowledged Wilt had won that particular high-flying showdown, but was undeterred by the injury.
“You’re damn right it hurts,” said Gus. “Would I try the same play again? Yes, I’d try it again.”
“I tried to shove his big hand through the net only I didn’t have full power on the play. He’s a powerful man; he had the power on that play.”
With a quote like that, there’s only one way to end this article…
Terry Pluto, Tall Tales, 240