Joplin remembers a local basketball legend

Joplin remembers a local basketball legend

Jeanette Sweet is one of many Joplinites who spent Wednesday paying her respects to Joplin High School basketball legend, Gary “Cat” Johnson, and thinking about his playing days back in the late 70s.

“It was wonderful. I think people just paid to see him, if they had to pay back then. I don’t know,” said Jeanette.

Cat Johnson was a lock for the Joplin Sports Hall of Fame after leading Joplin Memorial High to championships in 1977 and ’78. He was drafted by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and later went on to play professional basketball in England for 8 years, and eventually returned to Joplin where he opened both a car dealership and a restaurant.

“Cat was an amazing Joplin Hero, and I think what’s most fantastic is that he came back to his hometown, the hometown that he loved, and the hometown that he starred in as an incredible basketball player,” said MSSU community historian Brad Belk.

And while Cat’s actions on the court made him a star, the way he treated the people of Joplin following his playing career made him a local legend.

“He was one of the kindest men I ever knew. He always knew you. He’d shake your hand or give you a hug. And you know, sometimes us older people enjoy a good hand shake, or a hug,” said Jeanette.

“Strange enough, he was very modest. The ones that follow sports and know what kind of legend he was, know it wasn’t something he regularly bragged about. And that makes him even more special,” said Belk.