View Full Version : Guy from 1985 NBA draft still playing pro hoops

01-01-2011, 08:49 AM
Explorers have been searching for thousands of years for the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Well, apparently it's somewhere in Switzerland because that's where you'll find ex-Tulsa star Herb Johnson still playing professional basketball at 48 years young.

"I'm grateful for every day that I can run and actually do it," said Johnson, who plays for the club Villars Basket. "So if you rack up those years and look at Herb Johnson and say, ‘Hey man, you've done it for three decades,' -- well I'm a soldier, son."

To put Johnson's endurance in perspective, he was a part of the 1985 NBA draft class that included fellow big men Patrick Ewing, Wayman Tisdale, Detlef Schrempf, Charles Oakley, Karl Malone and A.C. Green.

Having celebrated his 48th birthday on Dec. 16, Johnson is also two months older than both Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. The oldest player in the NBA entering this season was Shaquille O'Neal, who at 38 is a full decade younger than Johnson.

It probably feels like a lifetime ago that Johnson helped Nolan Richardson's Golden Hurricane reach three NCAA Tournaments in the 1980s playing their patented "40 Minutes of Hell" style. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Johnson in the third round of the ‘85 draft but he never played in a regular-season game.

That's when his overseas odyssey began with stints in places such as France, Turkey, Italy and Japan. He is now fluent in French and Spanish and understands German and Italian.

Johnson is doing more than holding his own these days. He leads his team in minutes per game (33.9) and is averaging nearly a double-double with 10.3 PPG and 9.4 RPG.

What makes Johnson's durability even more remarkable is his size: He's a 6-foot-10 big man. While NBA centers like Greg Oden and Yao Ming can't stay healthy despite being decades younger than Johnson, he has never suffered a catastrophic injury and is even amazed at his own health over the years.

"I guess you get your usual poke in the face and bent fingers and all that. I guess that just comes with it," Johnson said. "But nothing scoped and cut. I was very fortunate to dodge that."

As if playing pro basketball at the age of 48 isn't difficult enough, Johnson also serves as an assistant coach. That's nothing. In the past, he's even served as his own team's head coach while also playing, which proved difficult at times.

Said Johnson: "I tell that to guys in the locker room: ‘Hey fellas, I don't know everything and I'm gonna miss a lot. And when there's a timeout, speak.'"

Johnson now resides in the picturesque town of Neuchâtel with his wife, a native of Switzerland, and his young daughter. Johnson, who is from Texas, also spends time during the offseason in Austin. He has no timetable on his retirement from the game and has not decided if he'll return to the states full time once he's done.

"It was comfortable to choose Switzerland and why not?" Johnson said. "Look at it. I mean you're in a situation where you traveled throughout Europe and at the end of your career you get to stay right in the center of it in a place like Switzerland. I mean, it's a no-brainer."

While recent NBA stars like Allen Iverson, Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury make headline news for playing the tail end of their pro careers overseas, there are plenty of much older American players still hooping it up across the pond. In fact, Fresno State's Ron Anderson, the father of USF junior forward Ron Anderson Jr., retired in France last month at the whopping age of 52 because of a nagging knee injury.

Don't be surprised if Johnson surpasses that.

He's still enjoying the game and his life in Switzerland as a pro basketball player, husband and father. Johnson recently celebrated his 48th birthday with dinner in France followed by cigars and some cognac. The next day at practice, his teammates took a moment to honor him.

Said Johnson: "By the end, some of the other players -- [and] coach even -- bought some Jack Daniel's [and said], ‘Hey old man, I'll drink Jack Daniel's with you."

Johnson isn't one to plan out his future or ask "What if?" about his past; he's at peace with the fact he still hasn't appeared in an NBA game. But he did take note when he heard about Jim Morris, the Texas high school baseball coach that signed with the Tampa Ray Devil Rays and appeared in his first big league game in 1999 at the age of 35.

It was later made into the 2002 film "The Rookie" starring Dennis Quad.

"Well just the fact he stood out there and did it, I thought that was the icing on the cake," Johnson said.

"If that's how Herb Johnson ended, it'd be nice" he added with a laugh. "I thought 30 years of basketball would finally get me one game [in the NBA]. I think I have more points that LeBron James."

Cleveland, are you listening?



01-01-2011, 09:29 AM
cool story

01-01-2011, 09:35 AM
Why didn't he play in the NBA?

01-01-2011, 10:33 AM
pretty impressive to be avg a double double at 48 in pro hoops.

01-01-2011, 11:28 AM
To me that's unfathomable.

01-01-2011, 11:29 AM
He's getting dumped on, from that video

01-01-2011, 11:32 AM
He was pick #55 in the 3rd round of the 1985 draft.

01-01-2011, 11:33 AM
That is impressive! Especially for a guy who was cut from the NBA. I mean, if a guy like Jordan or Malone went oveseas after their NBA career was done, I could see them playing 'til 50. The seasons are shorter, but still, wow. That is impressive.

01-01-2011, 11:42 AM
Thanks for that New Years gift. Great story.

01-01-2011, 11:54 AM
To me that's unfathomable


01-01-2011, 11:56 AM
that is amazing to be able to still play a sport like basketball at a high enough level at age 48.

01-01-2011, 12:05 PM


congrats to this guy. its pretty cool that hes been able to play for this long especially since he didnt make it in the nba. which is weird to me because if he can almost average a double-double at 48 years old, you would think that he was probably pretty damn good when he was in his prime but the only website i could find for him showed no stats for the nba so he must have never got to play in a game.

01-01-2011, 12:26 PM
Nice Story and i'm happy for him, but honestly the swiss league is not really that professional it gets no exposure in the media and players do not earn much from what i can tell. Still great Story and Neuchâtel is a beautiful town and a good place to live.

Hope he stays healthy a can play as long as he want's seems to be a great guy.

01-02-2011, 07:09 PM
Wow, basketball's Julio Franco

tyfreaks brotha
01-02-2011, 11:46 PM
that is amazing to be able to still play a sport like basketball at a high enough level at age 48.

Agreed to the highest concern. To be able to even play half-way decent at that age is well... unfathomable

01-03-2011, 01:38 AM
That's so cool.

GSW Hoops
01-03-2011, 12:18 PM
I can't imagine being paid to play basketball at any age, let alone at 48. That's awesome. Plus he's leading his team in minutes, haha.

01-03-2011, 12:23 PM
this was already posted about a week ago. still a cool story

01-03-2011, 12:41 PM