Gus Johnson talks top calls, broadcast style, college sports


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The exuberant Gus Johnson — who will be on the call for his first hoops game this season as part of Fox Sports’ new “Fox Primetime Hoops” package, with Arizona taking on Indiana 7:30 next Saturday — sits down for a little one-on-one with The Post’s Steve Serby.

Q: If you could go back in time and announce three sporting events in history, what would they be?

A: No. 1, Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler. And just telling the whole world that the Nazis could be beaten, where this man was trying to promote a master race. And Jesse Owens beat him at his crib. No. 2, Joe Louis beating Max Schmeling in their second fight. President (Franklin) Roosevelt … talked to him and said, “Joe we need [muscles like yours to beat Germany].” And he came through. And No. 3, the first day Jackie Robinson stepped on the field to play in Major League Baseball to break the color line. I’d love to have called that.

Q: Some of your calls: “Here comes the pain.”

A: Somebody’s about to get dunked on.

Q: “Hurt my feelings!”

A: Oh, yeah man, that was Ohio State, that dude [Denzel Ward] hit him so hard, it was like there was a barbecue back there, he didn’t get invited to the barbecue. When you had a barbecue, you got food, you got drinks, you got a little bit of everything that people like, beautiful ladies. … If you don’t invite me to something like that, I’m gonna take it personally. That kinda hurts my feelings, so the next time I see you, I think I kinda want to punch you in the face.

Q: “From the parking lot.”

A: Vermont-Syracuse, that dude (T.J. Sorrentine) shot a deep J, and that’s before Steph Curry.

Q: “My name is Al Harrington … and I get buckets.”

A: He was playing great that day. Knicks expected a lot of him coming over, and unfortunately it didn’t work out the way we thought, but he did have some moments and that was one.

Q: Is there one expression or call you’re fond of?

A: Yeah … Isaiah Thomas for Washington — “Cold-blooded!” He hit a shot to win the Pac-12 championship. To win the game at the buzzer. Not only did he hit the shot, he waved off the coach calling timeout. We’re in L.A., great game, comes down to the finish, and he shook him, crossed him over and hit a left-hand fallback jump shot to win it. Never seen anything like that.

Q: How often have you used “cold-blooded”?

A: That was the only time.

Q: “Rise and fire.”

A: When I was a kid, I used to be a pitcher at times and I would say, “Rocket Fire.” Then we start doing games I said, “Hey man, how bout ‘rise and fire’ for when a dude shoots a jump shot and hits it?”

Q: Favorite announcers or broadcasters then and now?

A: George Blaha, Ernie Harwell. And then when I got older, Marv Albert. Marv to me is Zeus … Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Jim Nantz. But even the old guys, Chris Schenkel, Don Criqui, Verne Lundqvist, Charles Jones, Pat Summerall.

Q: Did you study them?

A: 100 percent.

Q: You would take pieces from each one?

A: I stole everything. I’m about to call Marv and ask him if I could use “Yes!” Nobody’s using it. Anybody could use anything that I’ve done. I just think it’s cool. I don’t want it to be lost language. Emphatic for a certain moment in a certain realm.

Gus Johnson
Anne Wermiel

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Crazy … unhinged … chaos! But controlled.

Q: What do you attribute your style to?

A: I attribute my style to me … my family … being a black man in America. Have an opportunity to explode through sports.

Q: Can you elaborate on being a black man in America?

A: Yeah, I’m a black man in America, we don’t get the same chances — gotta be better. Gotta be really good. Gotta pay your dues. There ain’t no black privilege where I came from. We know there is white privilege.

Q: Are you proud of yourself?

A: Everybody says ah, we got free choice. I believe choice is an illusion, because you know what you’re supposed to do. So there is no choice, do what you’re supposed to do. And that’s what I think I’ve done — what I was supposed to do.

Q: Criticism you thought was unfair?

A: None of it bothers me. Criticism is part of the game. As my father said years ago: “Always remember son, everybody ain’t gonna love ya.” So I don’t really pay very much attention to it, nor do I pay very much attention to the praise. I just go do my job, best as I can.

Q: Your college football national champion?

A: Georgia over Michigan.

Gus Johnson
Gus Johnson

Q: Your Final Four is what?

A: Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC.

Q: Who is the Heisman Trophy winner?

A: Caleb Williams.

Q: What do you like about him?

A: He’s Patrick Mahomes.

Q: C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young?

A: Wonderful, wonderful. Terrific quarterbacks. I just love to see these African-American quarterbacks being talked about, and I remember a time in which that didn’t happen.

Q: Who do you like better, Stroud or Young?

A: Young. He can move, he can run. He’s tiny, that’s the only problem, he’s small, but so is Kyler Murray and so is Russell Wilson. But he can move, and he’s just got an instinct about him.

Q: An overview of the NCAA hoop season?

A: It’s a lot of parity in college basketball right now. And that’s gonna make for an incredible March when that takes place because you just never know who’s gonna win. There’s no dominant, dominant team.

Q: How do you see the Big East Conference?

A: It’s an interesting question because now that Jay Wright (Villanova) is gone. … I’m hearing that Creighton is gonna be the best team in the Big East, which is also kinda odd, Creighton’s not an original Big East team. With Jay Wright leaving, that’s a superstar. I think the Big East, like college basketball in general, is wide open, so you just never know right now because it’s so early who’s gonna emerge.

Q: Shaheen Holloway at Seton Hall?

A: I’m so happy for him. I covered him when he was in high school with Mike Quick (for MSG Network). He’s got that swagger about him, that New York City swagger. He’s just such a cool dude, I like him a lot, and I think he’s gonna do wonderful at Seton Hall. He’s almost like the perfect replacement for Coach (Kevin) Willard. We need stars, and he’s a star.

Q: What do you remember about him in high school?

A: He had curly hair — big, long locks of curly hair. Now he’s as bald as an 8 ball.

Red Storm
Mike Anderson
Getty Images

Q: St. John’s chances?

A: I like how they’re starting. I go back with Mike (Anderson) all the way back to his days as an assistant with Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. As a matter of fact, when I was a young sportscaster, my first game at CBS was an Arkansas-Cincinnati game in Fayetteville, and Mike took me out to eat barbecue at this little joint right around the corner from the arena. I think he’s a wonderful choice for St. John’s.

Q: Do you think they’re a tournament team?

A: I don’t know. They were close last year, and I think they keep getting better under his tutelage. There are going to be some rough patches, but I can’t wait to get to the Garden to call some of their games.

Q: What’s unique about the Big East Tournament?

A: New York City, baby. City so nice they had to name it twice. Ain’t nothing like New York City. There’s nothing, nothing and I mean nothing like the World’s Most Famous Arena. I was the voice of the Knicks for a long time. I miss that place every day.

Q: What do you want to say about Bill Raftery?

A: My white dad … that he gets on my frickin’ nerves. Just like your dad does. But I love him more than I love good food. I love that guy.

Q: Favorite single March Madness game you did?

A: Adam Morrison, Gonzaga versus UCLA. Adam Morrison was crying like a baby, he was so emotional about it to lose. And I just thought it was an incredible outpouring of emotion, and he cared.

Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson.
Fox Sports

Q: Your “Steph Curry is ruining the game” quote.

A: Too many people are trying to be Steph Curry, he’s an anomaly. Nobody’s going inside anymore. The center has been almost put to bed in basketball now. You gotta be a stretch 5 — no, everybody can’t shoot like Steph Curry. What he does is out of this world. He’s the greatest shooter in the history of the game and I just think that because he’s so talented, everybody thinks that they could do what he does with this analytics and all this crap, and it’s ruining the game. Take the easy 2 when you got a 7-footer. What would happen to Patrick Ewing today if he came out? Would he be shooting 3s?

Q: Jacque Vaughn?

A: I think he’s gonna be great. I was glad the Nets made that decision to hire him and not mess around. The coach, to me, with the Nets, is not the problem. It’s the players. And for the last two years, Kyrie Irving has been mired in controversy before the Nets could really even get off to a good start. So if they can figure out how to settle that, and get guy’s just focusing on basketball and not things outside of the court, I think Jacque Vaughn’s gonna be perfect.

Q: Do you think he’ll be able to reach Kyrie?

A: Kyrie needs to reach Kyrie. Focus on basketball and not focus on anything but basketball.

Q: The most compelling interview you ever conducted?

A: Oh, with Wilma Rudolph. Three-time gold medalist, Rome. She was so kind and sweet and pretty. It was just such a beautiful moment to have a chance to spend with her.

Q: Who would you love to have interviewed or covered?

A: Ali, Jim Brown, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis.

Q: The single most electric atmosphere?

A: Ohio State-Michigan, last year.

Q: The best Big East basketball game you’ve done?

A: St. John’s and Duke in the Garf (Howard Garfinkel) Classic.

Q: Your biggest influences growing up?

A: Mommy and daddy for sure … Bryant Gumbel.

Q: What was it about Bryant Gumbel that appealed to you?

A: I think my mother was in love with him. In 1979, when he did Michigan State and Indiana for NBC, he came on the air as the host, he wasn’t the play-by-play guy, and he was so beautiful — he was handsome, he had white teeth, beautiful skin, electric hair, he was nattily attired and he was so articulate. … I think at that point my mother decided what I was gonna do for a living, not me. I thought I was gonna be second baseman for the Tigers.

Q: Boyhood idols?

A: Bo Schembechler, Lou Whitaker, Barry Sanders, but the No. 1 was Isiah Thomas.

Q: Did you go to Pistons games?

A: My dad worked at Cobo Hall in Detroit. He used to always get us tickets. He was a janitor. Also he was a security guard.

Q: You could always get Tigers tickets?

A: The Boys Club had tickets, and most of the time people couldn’t go to every game, so they would give it to me and I would go there by myself.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Malcolm X, The Rock, Marcus Aurelius.

Q: Why Marcus Aurelius?

A: I’ve been reading his book “Meditations” for the last three years. … He was just a bad dude.

Q: Why The Rock?

A: His last name is Johnson, and he’s a movie star, and he’s a former football player and I just have a man crush on The Rock.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Hoosiers.” I’m a black man, I’m not supposed to say “Hoosiers.” And you can print that.

Q: Favorite actors?

A: Denzel Washington, Sam Jackson.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Viola Davis.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Kurt Elling.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: My mother’s Thanksgiving Day stuffing.

Q: You have a documentary coming out?

A: It’s gonna be cool, just some experiences, you know? Going from calling big-time college football games to going back to Harvard to work with my cohort, problems that face mankind, whether that be climate change and global warning, and race and human rights, and stuff like gun control and safety, mental health and all that stuff.

Q: When is this supposed to air?

A: In February.

Q: The All-Gus Johnson Team, basketball, your top six.

A: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Steph Curry.

Q: The All-Gus Johnson Team, NFL.

A: Jim Brown No. 1, Tom Brady No. 2, Lawrence Taylor No. 3, Bill Belichick No. 4, Patrick Mahomes No. 5 when it’s all said and done.

Q: Top five boxers.

A: Ali, Joe Frazier, Jack Johnson, Willie Pep and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Q: Top five baseball players.

A: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire.

Q: So you’re not a steroids guy at all.

A: They entertained us. They had to take a little extra juice, who cares?

Q: How proud are you to be Gus Johnson doing what you’re doing when maybe you yourself didn’t think you could do it?

A: I don’t talk third person. I’m just Gus. I’m your boy. I’m watching the game with you. I’m not telling you the game. I’m a fan, and I’m prepared. And I go out there and do my best, and if you like it, I’m happy, if you don’t, I understand. We’re human beings, we make mistakes, we are fallible. Words can’t express the amount of gratitude I have for just being able to this job for a living.

Q: The biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

A: Being black. Being in this business as a play-by-play guy. You don’t see very many of us.

Q: You’ve overcome it.

A: There is no finish line. I’m still working to be better.

Q: What do you hope your listeners or viewers say about Gus Johnson?

A: I hope they say that he’s a hard-working dude that loved the game, and he’s trying to lay the pathway for the next kid, black kid, that can go out there and do this.

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