If you were to ask most NBA fans who the first player to shatter a backboard in the league was, most will tell you it was the late Daryl ‘Chocolate Thunder’ Dawkins.
However, the 6-foot-11, 270 pounder, known for his hellacious dunks, wasn’t the first man to demonstrate such power and force in an NBA game.
Years before Dawkins, Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) was wrecking rims, and NBA opponents with a combination of size, strength and athleticism that would stand out in any era.
Standing at 6-foot-6, and 230 pounds, Johnson was a high-flyer with incredible power. Johnson was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Bullets (Washington) out of Idaho in 1963.
Nicknamed ‘Honeycomb’ because his game was so sweet, Johnson was a steal in the second round of the draft. He would go on to become a five-time All-Star, and one of the game’s best defenders and rebounders during his 10-year, Hall of Fame career.
In a game with the St. Louis Hawks (now Atlanta) in 1964, Johnson shattered the backboard with a ferocious dunk that literally tore the rim off.
“I hit the rim with my forearm, just tore the basket down,” Johnson said, in a 1986 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “The rim came down on [teammate] Sihugo Green’s foot, and he missed two weeks. The game was delayed about 45 minutes while they found a replacement hoop, at a high school, I think.”
“Later, Ben Kerner (the Hawks’ owner) sent the Bullets a bill for $1,500 that he wanted given to me. I just laughed.”
Johnson’s career average of 17 points and 12 rebounds per game are certainly impressive, but they do not speak to his impact on the game. Johnson passed away in 1987 at the age of 47 from a brain tumor. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2010.
Unfortunately, the ability to capture some of Johnson’s spectacular exploits are rare. The NBA didn’t have the national media following it enjoys today, or the technology that allows everyone to become photo journalists with their cell phones.
Nonetheless, there are a few clips that will give you an idea of Johnson’s grace and power.