In Memory

Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson

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01/30/17 11:00 AM #3    

Mark Meltzer

        CJ in 4th Grade. Washington School. 


I was a classmate of CJ's from elementary school (Washington School) all the way through UC Berkeley. In elementary school he was just known as Charley, CJ was to come later. We weren’t close friends but I did get invited to his house once while we were students at Washington School. He lived close to school in what was then an almost all Black neighborhood; located in the SW quadrant of the Five Points area West of El Camino. Racists referred to the area as N* Town. Charley introduced me to his Mom and she asked how I was doing. I just mumbled: “OK”. His Mom looked at me sternly then gently admonished me saying: “It would be more polite to say: I am doing fine, thank you for asking Mrs. Johnson." I was really embarrassed but I got the message. I could see where Charley’s unfailing graciousness had its roots, right at home.

I liked sports but I had no athletic talent at all. I was on the Washington School flag football team (second string) and Charley was our masterful QB. We were playing a Saturday morning game against Goodwin at the RC Rec Center and it was one of the only times my Dad could come to watch me play. I told Charley my Dad was there. Charley called me off the bench and set me up to make a completely undeserved TD. He led a hoard of kids to chase him all around the backfield twisting, turning, and dodging so that they couldn’t grab his flag. I was left completely in the open as more joined the  QB chase. Charley pivoted then lobbed me a very gentle pass. I caught it and had an easy run for a touchdown, the only one I ever made.

Charley just seemed so much more mature than I and my Washington School classmates were, like an adult in a kid's body. He broke up schoolyard fights with just a few calm words: “come on guys, knock it off”. Few wanted to see what would happen next if they ignored his instructions. We knew he was destined for greatness in sports, but at that early age we didn’t know which sport it would be in because Charley was great at all of them. As talented as he was, CJ was also genuinely modest. I never saw him brag, boast or act like a big shot. 

Charley was also a kind and protective person. Back then we had some mentally disabled kids in regular classes. They were sometimes teased and taunted on the schoolyard by cruel bullies. Charley put an end to most of that behavior by making it known that he didn’t like it and there would be consequences if it continued. No explicit threat of violence, just a few words from CJ did the job.  

CJ's amazing athletic talent overshadowed his other virtues, which were substantial. He had a way of fostering respect, keeping things cool and getting people to pull together. I'll bet he could have realized post NBA success as a politician or an even better match as a diplomat. 

Rest in peace CJ, you were a class act all the way. 


01/30/17 07:46 PM #4    

Carrol Moran

I knew Charlie best at McKinley Junior High. We hung out together with my friend, Jay Conlin, who was on the baseball team with him.  He was so much fun and he loved to dance. Charlie was great at baseball back then. In junior high most of the boys didn't dance much but Charlie would dance the fast dances with me. He was a great dancer and we had such a fun time together!  He was always a really nice person, a gentleman and he had such a wonderful sense of humor!  Even in high school he would come up behind me at my locker and knock my purse off my shoulder then look around like he was trying to figure out who had done it, then he'd wink and walk away.  I think it was just his way of letting me know we were still friends. I know we all admired what a great athlete he was, but as Mark said, he was an amazing human being as well! 


01/30/17 10:17 PM #5    

Alene McCarthy (Karthas)

I wish I had known Charlie personally. I only knew the sports legend in our halls. He was beautiful, kind, and never full of himself. I loved going to the basketball games to watch what he would do - truly a pro in the midst of a bunch of guys doing their best to figure out what just happened! The gym would ROCK with the cheers of Cherokees! Love it. Through the 70's Dan had season tickets to the Warriors. I loved watching him play, and was so proud that he was "ours." 

01/31/17 10:50 AM #6    

Andrew Wallace Elliott

I can echo what Charlie's classmates have said about him. He always had an aura of peace and gentleness about him, not to mention being poetry in motion (to squelch any emerging rumors, I wasn't checking him out in the halls, only on the basketball court). I've often bragged about knowing Charlie, though I so wish he was still with us so I could know him much better. I remember going to dances while at McKinley and seeing Charlie dance. While I was way too shy, Charlie was an inspiration (maybe you can start the rumors, it would have been crazy fun to dance with him). Along with Mark, he was a "classmate" of mine a UC Berkeley. We actually took a class together-statistics- which I hated. Marilyn Bottino -a year ahead of us at both Sequoia and Berkeley- tutored both Charlie and I to get us through that class. I remember playing hand slap with Charlie on the concrete playground of McKinley. It was laughable how lightening fast he was relative to my tortoise respones time.  I am proud to have known Charlie and am sad that he is not now with us. He was our banner to hold high.

02/14/17 05:14 PM #7    

Robert Boynton Ziegler

I remember Charlie from 7th grade at McKinley. We could see greatness in him from an early age. He was fast, agile, and super clever. In high school I never tired of watching him nor of playing basketball with him in 7th period. I'd marvel at the taut muscles in his legs and his ability to leave us mere mortals earthbound. During senior year, I remember him going out for track and breaking SPAL records in the long jump and triple jump. Personally he could be reserved, but always friendly, respectful, classy. We'd see each other at Berkeley from time to time but we were in different worlds. I loved watching him at Cal and later with the Warriors. I always felt that he was an important part of that 1975 NBA championship, because he could break up a defense with his speed and agility, contort his body and shoot or find an open man. He was an avatar.

04/06/17 02:06 PM #8    

Stanley Ware Stetson

My first memories of Charlie was when Goodwin played basketball against Mckinley.  Charlie was the key to their offense.  He had the long jumper down patt.  Because I was like 4 foot 2 at the time, I was the sixth man.  My joy was getting to be Charlie in practice and take the long jumper.  Even made one once.  Charlie was my hero from then on.  Watching him, Cullen and Dickie Poo Sharon in the PBT at Stanford was amazing,  Flag football in Intrermurals for class numbers was so cool.  You had to get your class numbers in a sport you did not play in.  Charlie was our QB.  The flag sticking out of his gym shorts, he could move all over the field and no one could get the flag.  Yes, girls Charlie could really move his ass.

Once in a boring class I watched him catch a fly in mid flight, let it go and catch it again.  I'm still workin on THAT one!!  Got to watch him play at Berkely with Andy Elliot and Bob Ziegler.  Followed him with NBA.  Almost cried when he got the award for being the best under six footer.  Cried when I heard he died.

Charlie was a hella of a ball player, but more than that, he was a wonderful human being. 

06/16/17 08:17 AM #9    

Thomas Artru

I remember Freshman year and being on the Freshman basketball team with Charles and Reddick Bibbs.  I did not play much but enjoyed watching Charles and Reddick do their stuff on the court.  As best I remember the next year they went to either the JV team or the varsity team.  I played the next year on the sophmore team but stopped playing after that.  Over the past couple of years while visiting my mom and dad in RC I would go to the City Pub on Broadway.  On more than one occassion I have run into Charles' sisters at the CP.  I always took the time to tell them how much I appreciated Charles not only as a athlete but as a person.  He left this earth much too early and these days we need more persons of his charactor around us.  

06/18/17 04:22 PM #10    

Alyson Loeffler (Canepa)

My father referreed many of those basketball games & had such good things to say about Charlie. Dad usually made comments about the character & sportsmanship of the players, not their athletic ability.

07/24/17 11:08 AM #11    

Richard Cullen

CJ was an incredible athlete and an amazing person. Although quiet and reserved, when you got him talking and laughing, he was a riot to be around! Many of us benefitted and enjoyed a tremendous privilege in playing with the "franchise". We were free to play hard and as a team as we had the best high school player in the area to carry us. A couple of quick CJ stories: One night, during summer league at M-A, we were playing against M-A who had 6'11" Roscoe Dudley playing in the post. We intercepted a pass around half court, and Roscoe stayed down around his basket. We threw the ball to CJ and all the other 8 players stopped and watch the 1 on 1 battle. CJ drove to the basket and went up as high as Roscoe could reach, switched the ball to his left hand, and layed it in over Roscoe. It was one of the most amazing plays we had ever witnessed. At practice one day, we were doing 1/2 court offense vs defense. Jim Oliver (Elgin) was guarding CJ on the wing. Jim got down and said "come on, CJ, you ain't so bad, show me what you've got". CJ gave him the raised eyebrow, looked at me and gave me a nod. CJ made a backdoor cut to the hoop, received the pass, and two-hand dunked the ball while Jim was giving chase. The ball went through the hoop and hit Jim on the head! Those were some of the things that made our hard work on the team and on the court so much fun and so rewarding. We stayed in touch after high school and I was able to watch him play at Cal and with the Warriors and the Bullets. When I heard he was sick, I tried to call him. His girlfriend wouldn't let me speak to him as the end was near. I so wish he would have let us back into his life and tell him goodbye and thank you for being such an awesome teammate, friend, and incredible athlete.




08/13/17 08:32 AM #12    

Michael Campbell

The last time that I saw Charlie was on May 29, 1978.

I was walking through the lobby of the Red Lion Hotel across from Sea-Tac airport with a couple of clients (my firm was holding a conference for our national and international clients at the Red Lion), when this bearded, muscular man walked up to me and said "Mike, how are you doing?".  I hardly recognized Charlie - he had gotten a lot bigger, had hair on his face and less on his head than when I had last seen him 11 years earlier at Sequoia.

We started talking about classmates and times at Sequoia, then Charlie asked if I wanted to join him and some friends in the bar.  I said sure (Charlie also invited my two clients to come along). That visit was very special (and a great treat for my two friends, who were huge basketball fans).

Charlie's "friends" in the bar were the rest of his Washington Bullets teammates and Coach Motta.  They were in town for Game 4 of the NBA Championship against the Seattle Supersonics (they were behind 2 games to 1). They were "resting up" for the following night's game.  I could hardly believe how big some of the Bullets were - especially Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes when they stood up to shake my hand when Charlie introduced us to them.

The Charlie that I knew at Sequoia was quiet and very measured in what he said and did.  That night in Seattle, I saw a completely different side of Charlie.  He was funny (told some great jokes), kidded many of his teammates (saying in one point that the best part of having Dick Motta as his coach was that it meant that he wasn't the shortest guy on the floor), and clearly was having a great time.

As I stood to leave (prior commitments with other clients), Charlie asked for a recommendation for a good steak/seafood restaurant for dinner.  I told him about one of my favorites which wasn't that far away, on the water.  When Charlie said that he and three others would go there, I said that it was easy to find, gave him my car keys and told him to enjoy himself because that night would be his last time this season in Seattle (because Seattle was expected to win the next two games and wrap up the Championship in Washington).

Later that night, when I retrieved my car keys from the front desk (as we had arranged), attached to my keys was a nice note from Charlie, thanking me for the use of my car, noting that the restaurant was all that I said that it would be, and inviting me to visit him and play some golf the next time that I was in the Bay Area.

The next night, the Bullets beat the Sonics in overtime when Charlie hit three quick shots to give the Bullets the win.  A few nights later, Charlie led the Bullets in points as the Bullets won the deciding game 7 to claim the World Championship.

I didn't follow up on Charlie's offer to visit him (and play some golf) whenever I got back to the Bay Area.  I was always sorry about that.

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