Joey “Jumping” Johnson: The Leaping Legend Of Basketball

Joey “Jumping” Johnson: The Leaping Legend Of Basketball

They asked him to jump, and his response was, “How high?”

Joey Johnson, the former Banning High basketball star, then slam-dunked a basketball through a hoop set at 11 feet, 7 inches–more than a foot-and-a-half over-regulation basket height. Standing at 6-foot-4, Joe Johnson, brother of Celtics legend Dennis Johnson, once held the world record for dunking on the highest hoop. The dunk occurred on June 25th, 1990 in a contest in Atlantic City, where Johnson out-jumped 6-foot-9 competitors Kenny Miller and Antonio Davis, who played 12 seasons in the NBA. Johnson netted $50,000 for the dunk and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“People swear he cleared it by afoot,” said Fred Trenkle, Southern Idaho’s basketball coach. “I was right there and it wasn’t afoot. But he was over by a good six to eight inches. He walked into the gym one morning and there was a TV crew set up. They asked him to show how high he could jump, so with no warmup of any kind, in his school clothes, Joey stood there, jumped up, and put his chin on the rim. I’ve got the videotape to prove it.”

Another great story about Johnson’s leaping ability happened when inside a Main Street bar called the Corner Club, a nail hung on a high beam, 11 feet 6 inches above the floor. It marked a point reached only by a Vandals player named Gus Johnson, who became a 1963 draft choice of the Baltimore Bullets, played 10 seasons in the N.B.A., and was named, posthumously, to the Hall of Fame in 2010.

The nail went undisturbed until the Southern Idaho coach, Fred Trenkle, suggested a stop at the Corner Club. He had a player who could touch his chin to the rim and supposedly had a 52-inch vertical leap.

“I got something I want you to do,” Joe Johnson remembered Trenkle telling him.

From a standing start, Johnson leaped and pulled on the nail, bending it downward. It was moved up in his honor.

But can he play the game?

Joey averaged 19.5 points at Southern Idaho and led the team to a national junior college title. He was an incredible shot blocker. In the JC championship game, an opponent fired a jump shot at the buzzer. Joey, standing about eight feet from the shooter, leaped and slapped the shot away.

He dunked 11 times in one game said Trenkle: “He can take the ball with his right hand, go up, put it between his legs and dunk it behind his head with his left hand. Effortless, absolutely effortless.”

In an interview prior to the start of his professional career, Joey said: “In high school, I wasn’t a good shooter because I didn’t have to shoot the ball then. I basically dunked whenever I wanted to. You always play to your strong points. I won’t call my jump shot weak, but I have stronger points of my game such as my defense and my ability to go to the basket.

Johnson’s Division I and pro career never soared to the heights basketball fans would expect for a player with his unique ability. After his disappointment at ASU, he moved back home to San Pedro and as he described it, “was just playing (basketball) around town.”

Johnson didn’t know if basketball fit into his plans. High-jumping certainly did not. He declined to pursue a spot on the U.S. team for the 1988 Olympics despite qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the event.

“I’ve proven that I can not only take the ball up to the basket at 10 feet, I can do something that no one else has been able to do, put it in at 11-7,” Johnson said.