“Coach, I just stood by this guy he must be at least 7 feet, 4 inches tall.” That’s what Jerry Johnson said to Head Coach, George King, in the huddle before Purdue met UCLA in the final game of the 1969 NCAA basketball tournament.
“I’m 6-10 and he towers over me,” Johnson said.
“Don’t worry about it Jerry,” King replied. “We’re just counting on you to hold him under 33 points.”
Jerry tried and he did pretty well. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, known in those days as Lew Alcinder, only scored 37 against Johnson.
“Kareem was a giant,” repeated Johnson. “He was the absolutely the best I ever played against and maybe the best center ever. It was a shame they took the dunk away on him, but really that probably saved all of us a little more embarrassment than we already had out there trying to guard him. He could go either way around the hoop and he was just incredible. John Wooden played him so smartly. In the final game, our shooting was so poor and Lew was incredibly good. Coach George decided that we’re just going to play him one-on-one and there was no way I could stop him. I would front him and his arm would be a foot above mine. I’ll never forget it. It’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life. George said that he didn’t care if he had 33 or 37 in him. Well, that’s what he ended up with is 37 so that happened.”
Jerry Johnson will be Ted’s guest on “Ted Hayes Remembers” today at 12:20 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. CT.