Carl Johnson is Bridgehampton basketball.
It’s a bold statement, considering the school’s long, storied history, which includes nine state championships, second-most in New York history — all the more remarkable, considering the school’s tiny enrollment. But no single man has embodied that history in the way that Mr. Johnson has. He was a player, a point guard, who helped lead the Killer Bees to three straight state titles, in 1978, 1979 and 1980. He later went on to a 26-year coaching career that added four more state titles.
The announcement last week that Carl Johnson will enter the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame in March 2020 as a unanimous choice is a wonderful capstone on a basketball career that ended after the 2016-17 season. It’s truly cause for celebration, for him and the entire program.
But it’s not the greatest part of his legacy.
Basketball has been a constant, but it’s not the priority for Mr. Johnson. It was a way he could shape the lives of the kids he came into contact with through the program, to teach them skills that are useful on the court but also in life. He was an effective mentor because he had been one of those kids, growing up in Bridgehampton and living a young life with basketball at its center. It’s no surprise he’s had such an impact on so many lives.
The honor next March is well-earned and well-deserved. But if you want to see Carl Johnson’s greatness, it’s on display, every day, in the boys — and now men — he inspired, and continues to inspire today, working with elementary school kids. State championships and Hall of Fame honors are the icing, but they simply top the sweet successes he has had in the lives of so many. That’s what truly makes him a legend.