When the Golden State Warriors first moved to the Bay Area, they struggled to gain a consistent following. In order to boost attendance, they signed a few local players. One of those players was Charles Johnson. In an era filled with great talent, Johnson struggled to gain recognition, only scoring 4,241 points in his entire eight year career. However, he proved to be a vital part of two championship teams in his own quiet way. This is his story.
Charles Johnson was born on March 31, 1949 in Corpus Christi, Texas. After his family moved to Redwood City, California when he was young, Johnson starred at Sequoia High School. In addition to basketball, Johnson ran well in track and won the CCS championship in the long jump. After graduation, he declined an offer from national powerhouse UCLA and accepted a scholarship offer to nearby UC Berkeley.
While a student at Cal, Johnson earned the nickname “Mysterious” because he would disappear for periods of time. This kind of behavior would stay with him for much of his time in college and the NBA. As a sophomore, Johnson averaged 14 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as the Golden Bears finished 12-13.
The following year, he averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game while the Golden Bears regressed with an 11-15 record. As a senior, the Golden Bears improved to a 16-9 record while he averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. When the season concluded, Johnson was drafted in the sixth round of the 1971 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
Though he had been drafted by the Warriors, Johnson felt like he would probably not make the team that year and instead quit the team before they had a chance to really evaluate him. He played that year in Mexico and then returned to Oakland the next fall to try out for the Warriors. He made the squad and in his first year in the NBA, Charles Johnson averaged 5.4 points per game as he got acclimated to the speed of the NBA. The following year he averaged 7.2 points and three rebounds but missed 23 games due to injury. Throughout his time with the Warriors, Charles Johnson was very much an introvert and never allowed himself to be caught up in the glamour of the NBA.
The Warriors won the NBA Championship in 1975 and Charles Johnson helped the team reach the pinnacle of the league by averaging 10.9 points, 2.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. In the Finals, Johnson averaged 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and two assists per game as the Warriors defeated the Washington Bullets in four games. The following year, Johnson averaged 9.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game as the Warriors lost in the conference championship to the Phoenix Suns.
In his last full season as a Warrior, Johnson averaged 7.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. In the middle of the 1977-1978 season, the Warriors traded Johnson to the Bullets where he averaged 8.3 points in the remaining 39 games of the season. Johnson became more outgoing in Washington D.C and the rest of his career would be one of bliss and joy.
The Bullets returned to the NBA Finals that year and Johnson proved to be vital for the team. Charles Johnson averaged 10.7 points, 2.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds as the Bullets defeated the Seattle Supersonics in seven games to win the NBA championship. After averaging 9.2 points per game the following year, Johnson retired from the NBA.
After retiring from the NBA, Charles Johnson returned to the Bay Area and became proficient in tennis and golf. He participated in several pro-am tournaments and was rumored to have shot in the 70’s in golf. After a long battle with cancer, Charles Johnson passed away on June 1, 2007 at the age of 58.