By Mark Meltzer:
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.
(I found a 1975 Warriors Press Guide at Bell’s Books and could not resist buying myself a late Chanukah gift; it said CJ’s numbers for that championship season were: 79 games, 863 points regular season; 17, games, 212 points in playoffs. When Hans Delannoy (Gunn coach, 1979-1981, 47-8 record; Cubberley player and coach, 1968-1978 various) and I toured the San Mateo County Sports Hall of Fame at the old courthouse, he posed in front of the CJ photo and write-up. My neighbor N_ played for Woodside and also has memories and respect for CJ. I liked the Warriors that year, but did not realize what a gem of a team they were, or that we’d wait 40 more years for another pro title. I am also moved, if you excuse the digression, to think of his Warrior teammate Phil Smith, the USF legend; I thought of Phil Smith two weeks ago when I saw Dartmouth play at USF; both Johnson and Smith died before age 60 of cancers. Sic transit gloria; Seize the day; squeeze your babies.
Link to Sequoia 1967 page.
edit to add: I had forgotten this or never knew: CJ also was a World Champ as a sub for the 1977-1978 Washington Bullets, teammate of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.