The Starting Five Gus Johnson Interview

Gus Johnson and Len Elmore do their thing

Do you remember your first memorable game? A game when the announcer shot strong a play which had you on the edge of your seat and the moment was made pure simply because the broadcaster connected with your spirit so true you thought he was you? He was calling a close game and your favorite team was playing. You will never forget the place. You will never forget the time…the weather outside…your family…almost to the point of smelling…anticipating…the oh so delicious food your Mom was making. The broadcaster sucked you so far in you couldn’t hear your Mom calling…calling you to dinner and despite family rules there is to be no TV while the family ate, your parents let you hear the game and you rocked your chair back just to get a glimpse of the TV around the corner so far…you fell out of your seat and your Mother’s great food went everywhere. Your Mom scolds you with a smile…your Dad cracks up and says to your Mom “That’s your son”. The moment ends up being grand but you know damn well in another time it wouldn’t have turned out so swell. Memories…and it was all because of that supremely talented announcer with his excited but tempered calls all throughout the game that kept you in it…heart pounding, eyes wide, mouth dry. You almost choke on the food you have left when he shouts………………..OHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! (Gus Johnson soundboard)

This was done Thursday night…as Gus was preparing to call four games in Buffalo, NY.

Michael Tillery: Whassup Gus?

Gus Johnson: Whassup big fella?

MT: I’m shocked. What’s going on today?

GJ: I know right. It’s crazy.

MT: Crazy. I think most anticipated something like this happening this year but I never thought it would be Georgetown.

GJ: Yeah, Georgetown goes down. Vandy goes down. Villanova almost went down. Yeah man.

MT: There’s a lot of talent across the country. It seems like a lot of the nation’s attention was on the Big East. I think some of the smaller conferences have taken exception.

GJ: Well you know, the Big East got eight teams in…considered the best conference in the country. You have small teams going at it really hard. Plus a team like Georgetown went to the Big East Finals and seemed tired tonight. They looked a step slow.

MT: I know you are gearing up. When do you go on air?

GJ: I’m in Buffalo right now. I have four games tomorrow. I’m getting some sleep and I’ll be ready to go.

MT: We were supposed to get this done last year. I think it was after the Knicks were blown out here in Philly. I appreciate you doing this in such a timely manner. I have 26:35 of tape. I’m gonna keep it there. We could talk basketball for hours but time doesn’t permit.

GJ: Let’s do it.

MT: Cool. I want to give readers a sense of who you are, so what’s your first sports recollection?

GJ: I was probably six years old playing T ball at the Boys Club in Detroit. I started early and I loved sports back then. There was always something to do and always a way to beat the streets. There was always a lot of trappings in an urban neighborhood. I guess the first time I hit a T ball good I was hooked on sports in general.

MT: When I say the name Anthony Carter what do you think of?

GJ: That’s #1 at the University of Michigan. Probably the greatest college wide receiver ever…if not one of the greatest college wide receivers ever. He had a long career in the NFL. Especially with Minnesota. There were many days he lit up my household with his exploits on the field.

MT: I see you went to Howard University and majored in poly sci.

GJ: I went to a good high school…a Jesuit school…and was always interested in the inner workings of government…how people work together or work apart. I thought it was interesting because I always wanted to try and help people in a way of public service and to do it the right way. I thought that as a politician there are many opportunities to help those less fortunate and that’s really what I wanted to do.

MT: I hear you were a pretty good high school quarterback. Did you play sports at Howard?

GJ: I was a pretty good quarterback in high school. I played baseball in college. I was decent…not great. I didn’t have the fundamentals. I probably should have played basketball…football or something. When I was in college, we played a lot of great teams. We played Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Cal and James Madison. Some high caliber Division 1 baseball programs…along with our MEAC and normal non conference schedule. We played Georgetown. We played George Mason. George Washington. Very good competition. It was a lot of fun. I was a catcher so I learned how to control the game with my mind. It was one of the best experiences that one could ever have.

MT: I have a son and a daughter who played baseball and softball, respectively. They were above average but choose to focus on basketball despite their talent. This isn’t my family exclusive and in my son’s case, there were other issues involved. What do you attribute to the exodus from the diamond onto the hardwood?

GJ: Video games. Kids don’t like to do the same things that we did. Their attention spans are much shorter. I have a six year old son. He’s not really interested in sports but he loves video games and the computer. He goes to science club, Jiu Jitsu and Karate, chess club and all that kind of stuff. Baseball is a slower sport. In a fast paced society, you gotta love it to stick around and play it. My son played little league for the first year and he was out in right field chasing butterflies man. He could care less. All he cared about was snack time between innings which I thought was so funny. I was like “Ok man do your thing”.

MT: (I crack up because as a former coach, I saw this happen many times) I was close to attending Delaware State. I’m sure I would have played baseball. You would have seen me coming around third base…

GJ: You’re a big guy. I’m sure that would have been painful. Thank God I didn’t see you (We laugh)!

MT: Obviously Gus, you are one of the most talented broadcasters…if not the most talented. I see you are getting into MMA. What are the differences between sports regarding your emotion and passion while you are broadcasting an event?

GJ: MMA is violent. Really violent. It’s bloody…it’s gory. I really really like it. I really like that part about it. I think there is something…fundamentally carnal about mixed martial arts. They are really fighting. Not just boxing. They are fighting and I like it. I like the disciplines. I like the combination of arts. Bruce Lee talked about it in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was an amalgamation of the different art forms…Kung Fu…Karate…Judo…Jiu Jitsu…wrestling…Muay Thai…it’s a combination of everything. It’s a genius art form.

I think mixed martial arts is a wonderful sport. I’m excited to be in it. It gives us one opportunity to see men fighting in a cage and being allowed to let all that rage out in a really controlled environment. Fans respond to it and understand it. it’s something that has a really bright future in our country.

MT: The sense I was trying to get is are you a more raw personality in front of the blood and gore…and not per say because of the violence…but because of how it smacks your emotions?

GJ: Yeah because it’s more honest than the other sports. It’s raw. It is what it is. You have two men in there fighting each other. This isn’t a match, it’s a fight!

So it allows me to let go of the stuff that I hold in sometimes about the liking to see stuff like that.

If someone is fighting in the hood…unless there’s guns…you are gonna stand around and watch.

MT: How would you describe your style?

GJ: Just open. Honest. Engaged. I believe in the suspension of disbelief. I believe in that. That’s part of the play. The ensemble cast. They have to buy into whatever they’re doing…collectively. I believe in being part of something big…calling some kinda game…no matter what sport it is…NFL, NBA, college basketball…or if I had the job of calling a pee wee soccer game or a pee week tiddly winks game. I believe in believing in whatever you are doing and being the greatest thing that’s going on right there.

MT: What’s Bill Rafterty like?

GJ: He’s awesome. Thinks like a coach. He’s funny. He’s bright. He’s understated and overstated at the same time. He’s a pro so he gets it. He’s a good teammate…a great teammate.

MT: You’ve called some great upsets. Would you rather do…and I don’t mean what happened to Georgetown today…a straight blow out…would you rather do an upset instead of just a great game?

GJ: Well I think you always want to do a buzzer beater. That’s really what you want to do. If it’s an upset buzzer beater it makes it even better…at least for that moment. You always want to do great games and if they come down to the wire? Even better.

MT: A series of memorable games…don’t give me the actual calls…but a brief description of the games and the emotion you felt at the time.


GJ: That was the year Princeton…a bunch of Ivy Leaguers had beat the defending national champions. They beat them in the Princeton way…a back door cut at the end…after passing the ball 5 times with 30 seconds on the clock. That was incredible. It was the perfect display of what team work is about and unselfishness and ability within a system. When you believe in a system so strong and pass the ball five times you have a good chance to win against the defending national champions in the NCAA Tournament and nobody is older than 22.

MT: Florida/Gonzaga

GJ: The sipper still fits! Cinderella lives…but not only lives but can advance to the point where she doesn’t have to wait for an invitation to the dance anymore. She’s the center of the party. The slipper still fits is something that you can see.

In college basketball on this very day, Georgetown goes down to Ohio. Murray State beats Vandy. Robert Morris almost beats Villanova.

Not only is the slipper still fittin’. It’s like a…it’s like a Timberland.

MT: Yeah it is. Sean Mitchell wrote a piece for TSF on some recent upsets…Syracuse losing to Vermont was mentioned. He got some great quotes. What are your recollections of that game?

GJ: He wrote a piece on the game 5 years ago?

MT: Yes. He got some great quotes. I dug the piece. What are your recollections of that game? Vermont and Syracuse? Could it happen again?


GJ: I don’t know about that. It’s a whole different story. Back then Syracuse was a 4 (seed) now they are a 1. Syracuse has NBA players on their team. They are legit. Top five pick in (Wes) Johnson.

Back then it was a classic case of a good team having a couple of good players…Taylor Coppenrath and TJ Sorrentine…they hit shots…they hit shots over that zone. They got some momentum. They kept it close. They didn’t turn it over and in the end, they hit shots! The one kid shot the ball from halfcourt. TJ Sorrentine shot the ball from halfcourt! Almost. He was so deep I was like “Whoa!!”

That was then. Great game. Great upset. It’s a whole different ball game tomorrow (Syracuse won 79-56).

MT: No question. How about Ohio State/Xavier?

GJ: Personal. Not only was it business, that was personal. Xavier kept saying “We want Ohio State” and Ohio State would say “Oh, ya’ll want us? Well we want you.”

What a game played at Rupp Arena. Great atmosphere. It was something. Ron Lewis man…he was a mature player. He got that ball and went up so strong and straight and fired…it went in. Then they went to overtime. It was a classic matchup. A classic battle. In the end the team just that much more talented ended up winning.

MT: On that same vein, do you have a favorite arena?

GJ: Well I like Rupp. I like Rupp a lot. That’s one of the great arenas in the country. I love Madison Square Garden. That’s my favorite arena. It’s the world’s most famous arena. In terms of college arenas? Rupp is great, Duke (Cameron) is great. Michigan State (Breslin) is great. I used to think Arkansas (Bud Walton) was great.

MT: How about Field House?

GJ: Which is that?

MT: Allen, Phog Allen. Great fans. Great atmosphere.

GJ: Phog Allen is incredible. The fans are incredible. When they start their chants and all that stuff and all that blue and red. It’s not just a regular blue…it’s an interesting blue. It’s almost like a borderline electric blue that the Jayhawk fans wear. That’s a terrific place to watch a game.

Dayton has a great arena too. I like those old school arenas.

MT: The last one I have is Michigan State/Kansas:

GJ: That was a good game last year. Michigan State played hard. Michigan State came back and won the game. They defend. They moved the ball. They have stars. Kalin Lucas was their star. He hit big shot down the stretch. That was a really good one.

MT: The NFL. That’s an interesting sport for you in that…as you alluded to about MMA earlier…it’s more raw than basketball. The fast paced action of football, how does that factor into your skillset?


GJ: Wow…I don’t even know man. I just go out there and call the game. I played football. I was All Catholic. I had a couple of scholarship offers to play ball in small places. I love football. Football is really rough. They are going fast and they’re going hard. They have on equipment that can kill you…helmets and shoulder pads.

My skill set? I’m a broadcaster. It’s what I do. That’s what I do during that time of year. That’s what I practice for and train for. It’s right up my alley.

MT: If there was such a person, who was that guy who made you say I want to be a broadcaster? Where was the initial influence?

GJ: Glenn Harris was a sportscaster at WHUR my college radio station. They had a news magazine show on radio and they had a sportscaster and a sports department and that was Glenn. He played baseball at Howard like I did. Glenn was old enough to be my Dad. I’m 42, he’s probably 62. More like a brother than a Dad. He’s older like that. I hung around him. I interned for him. He taught me the ropes. He taught me how to grow up a lot when I was on my own. He was the one who made me say to myself this is what I wanna do and I’m going to pursue it.

MT: Being honest with you here, as a writer, I’m a tad bit envious of broadcasters because your work is done when mine is just starting post game. I see you all walk out and I say damn, I gotta write this piece. Transcribe all this stuff.

I want to get across to the kids about the hard work that goes into your game preparation. In my opinion you are the best but you just didn’t get here without discipline and resolve.

GJ: You guys work after the game. We work before it to a large degree putting boards together, trying to figure out how we are gonna talk to players…coaches during interviews. Getting ready to go to the game…going through all the stats and notes. Stuff like that. Then we have to go out there and perform while the game is going in front of people. Millions sometimes. That’s what kinda makes it difficult. There’s a certain amount of pressure with trying to get it right. Those are some of the challenges with being a broadcaster.

MT: Kobe and LeBron.

GJ: Those guys are breathtaking players. They are supernovas. They are the two best in the league.

MT: Obviously you are going to be a legendary talent…I think you are underrated despite a broad scope of people who recognize your exploits. What do you want to give to the next generation? Do you view that as a personal responsibility?

GJ: What I want to give to the next generation is a piece of me. Hopefully they’ll remember that. I’ve been doing this for a long time…since 1990. CBS since 1994-1995. A whole generation of kids has grown up listening to me. What I want to give to them is me…my philosophy…how I feel…here’s what I think…sitting on this stage per say and talking to millions on a regular basis. It’s an opportunity to show people more than to tell people how it is I feel about what I’m seeing in front of me.

Gus is so peace, the recorder runs out just as he speaks his last word…

Gus does Madden 11


Buffalo recap after first round:

Buffalo recap after second round:

13 Responses to “The Starting Five Gus Johnson Interview”

  1. bugsy says:

    I’m a Temple grad so it pained me to see them go out early. At this point I want to see Duke bounced. Gus seems like a chill dude. Good work Miz.

  2. MODI says:

    Ha, I love Gus as much as I hate MMA. When I wake up in the morning I want Gus Johnson announcing it. I am absolutely sure it would be the best day of my life!

    And while Im dreaming could Gus pleeeeeeeease call more Knick games while while sending Mike Breen on a permanent vacation!


  3. Okori Wadsworth says:

    @Modi: You hate MMA STILL? STILL?

    After all of that fine argumentative work I did?

  4. Ron Glover says:

    Gus Johnson is awesome, you know I get chills when I hear the name Anthony Carter (First football player I remember seeing). I love the crewthat they put together for the NCAA. Raftery is another on of my favorites, Kellogg has come a long way, Elmore is like the wise ol’ owl and Nantz is just as steady. Great interview.

  5. Michelle says:

    Gus is one of the great ones 🙂

  6. Temple3 says:

    Nice work Mizzo.

    Gus is the best in the game right now — on college hoops and in the NFL. No one is more prepared. He doesn’t talk too much and knows how to set up his analysts. If anyone has NFL Rewind, check out his broadcasts of Titans games. If you really want to know what’s going on with a team (especially one with a Black quarterback), Gus is that dude. Fair, balanced, big picture and little nuances. Top notch!

    Thanks, again Mizz.

  7. GrandNubian says:

    Good work Mizz…..


    Yeah, i’ve heard Gus do some Titans games. He is definitely “that dude”.

  8. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by michaeltillery: Gus Johnson Interview on TSF. Gus makes a great time of year that much better…

  9. MODI says:

    Despite your incredible powers of reasoning and logic… it’s amazing isn’t it.

    Gus certainly knows his stuff but what truly makes him great is that he makes you love the game and the moment more than you already did. The man could get me revved up for a field hockey game

  10. Okori Wadsworth says:

    Thanks MODI. I appreciate you giving me the chance to argue that point with you.

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