Irv Johnson, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, sometimes known as “Swervin Irvin” or “I in the Sky”, was a highly talented center for the Royals from 1976-1980. He played with his older brother, Phil Johnson, up until 1978, when his brother graduated. Irv was considered one of the greatest players in the country for the entire time he played for Scranton.
Irv was the starting center, as a freshman, for the 1976 NCAA Division III National Championship team, the first one in school history. He was also a key component of the 1976-77 season when the Royals finished 3rd in the country.
Johnson was a highly accomplished basketball player while he was at the U. He was a two time First Team All-American (1977, 1978). Three time Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) All-Star and one time Third Team All-American (1980). And in 1978 he was the only Division III player to be named to the Associated Press College Division All-American Team.
Irv is second in school history in scoring, at 1,859 points. First in career rebounds, at a jaw dropping 1,271 rebounds. And to cement his mark in athletics history at the university, he is first in career blocks, at 243.
The coach at the time, Bob Bessoir, always had nothing but good things to say about Irv to the press. He gave Johnson credit for getting the Royals national attention and often stated that Irv could become a professional basketball player. Speaking of national attention, in 1977, the Washington Post did a story on Irv Johnson, his older brother Phil and the University of Scranton basketball team.
When it comes to Irv’s experiences on campus, it again is difficult to assume how it was for him, but we can make assumptions based on what the media posted. It was well documented that Irv was a celebrity in Scranton and on campus. The home crowds always cheered his name during games and supported him. However, we do not know what life was like for him as a Black man on campus, other than that he was very popular.
Something that likely had a profound effect on Irv and other Black student athletes and Black college students in general, was the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of University of California Regents v. Bakke of 1978. Which ruled that affirmative action can be used as a legal strategy to deal with past discrimination.
In 1980, Irv was awarded the Les Dickman Award, which is given to the most valuable senior. Johnson was inducted into the University of Scranton’s “Wall of Fame” in 1992. Irv was also named to the MAC All-Century Team and was inducted into the MAC Hall of Fame in 2017.
Irv Johnson is debatably the greatest basketball player to ever wear the Royal uniform and one of the greatest athletes in the University of Scranton’s history.