Basketball legend Webb passes away
KANNAPOLIS — Johnny Mack Webb, a legendary basketball player in Kannapolis, died On Oct. 12.
A 1962 A.L. Brown graduate, he was 71.
Funeral services for Webb were held Thursday. Some who paid their respects were men who tried unsuccessfully to guard him.
“He was probably the best offensive player of the 1960s in our town,” said Doug Wilson, who recalls Webb pouring in 63 points one night in the competitive City League at the old YMCA.
“That was before the 3-point shot,” Wilson continued. “Johnny had a deadly jumper and a running hook shot.”
Granite Quarry CPA Ronnie Woodward was Webb’s classmate. They were teammates a long time.
“We started out in the Mites program at the Y and we played together at Cannon (Junior High) and then at A.L. Brown,” Woodward said. “Johnny was always the best player on our team — by far.”
Woodward recalls Webb’s sophomore year (1960) was disappointing. Webb didn’t play much for the varsity, and the Wonders weren’t a factor in the South Piedmont Conference.
“The summer between his sophomore and junior years, Johnny worked hard to improve,” Woodward said. “He could always shoot, but you could see the rest of his game getting better.”
Another key factor in Webb’s rise to stardom was a coaching change at A.L. Brown. Doug Chalk had been the 1960 MVP of the North State Conference Tournament, leading the Catawba Indians to victory. Shortly after his graduation, Chalk was hired to guide the 1961 A.L. Brown squad.
Despite his youth, Chalk, who had scored 35 in a game for Catawba, brought instant credibility because he was a better player than his players.
Chalk’s forte was being a sensational shooter, so he and Webb, a forward with unlimited range, hit it off immediately.
“Johnny liked Coach Chalk and Coach liked Johnny,” Woodward said.
Prep games were defensive-minded in that era, with the winning team often scoring in the 40s. But suddenly A.L. Brown had two players who could get 20. Along with Webb, there was Ronnie Davis.
Davis, a senior in 1961, went on to East Carolina and became a special agent for the FBI. He died in 2014.
1961 was a great season for the Wonders. They went 21-4 and stampeded the SPC.
Bullock Gym, finished in 1958, was one of the showplaces of area high school gyms, and the Wonders hosted the 1961 SPC tournament.
Webb scored 18 and Davis 17 in a 60-49 win against Concord in the first round. In the semifinals, Webb scored 22 in a 58-40 win against Statesville. Webb scored 21 when the Wonders beat Asheboro 43-31 in the tournament final.
There was plenty of hype before the Wonders hosted NPC tournament winner North Rowan in the 1961 Piedmont championship game.
The Cavaliers — led by Larry Thomason, Frank Wilson, Mike Lester, Mike Steele and Gilbert Sprinkle — had finished seventh in the NPC regular season but had made an astounding run to win the tournament.
North ran out of magic against the Wonders. Webb had 16 points by halftime, and the Wonders led 36-17. A.L. Brown cruised 70-34. Davis scored 21, while Webb finished with 20.
Next, A.L. Brown played Shelby in Hudson in the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association championship game. Webb was held to 12 and the Wonders lost 49-42 to the Golden Lions.
“It was a game we always felt like we should’ve won,” Woodward said.
Without Davis, the 1962 Wonders dropped off a bit, but Webb had a great senior year.
“Johnny was the best player in our conference his junior year and his senior year,” said Woodward, a starting guard on those A.L. Brown teams.
Webb scored 23 against South Rowan on Jan. 5, 1962, in the SPC opener and the first basketball meeting of the neighbors. Webb led the Wonders to a 47-34 victory.
Webb poured in 32 against Bethel, and he pumped in 20-something most nights in the SPC.
They held a combined Piedmont tournament in 1962, with only the top four teams from the SPC and NPC qualifying. They tangled in the Davie County gym in Mocksville.
Webb’s last win as a Wonder came in the first round of that tournament on March 3, 1962. Again the adversary was a North Rowan team led by Lester, Steele and Sprinkle.
North led by 14 in the third quarter, but a 25-point effort by Webb rallied A.L. Brown to a 51-48 victory.
Webb’s career ended in a semifinal with a 48-45 overtime loss to Statesville. Webb scored 16.
Webb went on to play at Wingate Junior College for coach Bill Connell, but he got stuck behind Mike Martin, a quick Wingate baseball All-American as well as a fine basketball player. Martin would go on to coach Florida State’s baseball squad.
When he returned to Kannapolis, Webb put on scoring shows in the town’s YMCA leagues for years.
In March, 1967, A.L. Brown added another WNCHSAA basketball title to the ones it had won previously in 1952, 1954 and 1957. In the fall of 1967, Webb and his YMCA teammates took on the Wonders in a preseason contest. Webb made a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.
“That was the A.L. Brown team that beat Kings Mountain for another WNCHSAA championship that spring,” Wilson said.
Wilson also recalls a 1969 championship game between his Williford Drug squad and Webb’s Kannapolis Jaycees team.
“They won 56-50, and Johnny scored 40,” Wilson said. “We played a box-and-one on him, but we couldn’t stop him. He was one of the two or three best I ever played against.”
Webb, was a surveyor and spent much of his working life in Roanoke Rapids, Va.
After returning to Kannapolis, he was active in A.L. Brown’s booster club, and his passion was building a memorabilia collection — jerseys, helmets, letter jackets, programs — from the glory days of the South Piedmont Conference.
“People will always remember Johnny for basketball, but he was very good in baseball and he was an all-conference third baseman,” Woodward said. “He was a great athlete and he was a fine, fine man.”
A full obituary was published in the Post on Oct. 14.
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