Dec 11 2008 By Matthew Leslie
ALL HAIL the Sheikh of Philadelphia was the verdict of Rocks fans after new boy Wilbur Johnson made a triumphant return to basketball.
The six foot nine centre was signed by Rocks boss Sterling Davis last week to replace the long-since departed Moritz Wohlers and was an instant hit with the fans with a solid defensive display.
That was made more impressive by the fact Johnson had retired from the sport early in 2007 and was making his comeback in the 87-80 win over Worcester Wolves - a victory which ensures the Rocks lead the BBL table with a two-point gap over Newcastle.
Also coming back was the cult of the towel which has the Philadelphian cutting a fine Arab Sheikh-esque figure - something which he hopes gets more fans turning up.
He laughed: "People seem to think the towel thing is just a gimmick but it's not.
"Truth be told, the towel keeps my head warm when I'm on the bench - and given there's not too much hair on top, it's needed.
"It became a bit of a cult thing when I was at Brighton and if Rocks fans want to follow suit and wear towels or Sheikh type headgear, then great - as long as it gets more fans in the arena that's fine."
Joining the Rocks came at an ideal moment for Wilbur after becoming a victim of the recent global financial crisis.
He added: "I'm a bit surprised to be back because when I was playing in Greece, I had some problems with my club over money owed to me.
"I then went back to the States - one month went to another month and I was retired.
"I had also gotten a good job and looked forward to life wearing a suit and tie.
"But during that time I was still getting calls from clubs in Germany, Belgium and the UK of which one was the Rocks all asking me to come back.
"Believe me I was tempted but I had moved on to the next stage of my life and was settled in my new job.
"Then comes this credit crisis which hit the States pretty bad and I got laid off - that was only two weeks ago.
"I suppose I've been blessed that I made so many friends during my 11 years of playing that as soon as one door closed, another one opened up.
"Jobs are pretty hard to come by and it could have taken another three or four months to get back on my feet."
Despite his absence from the sport, Wilbur hopes to be up to speed in no time.
He continued: "I had been keeping myself pretty fit these past two years so I felt confident that I could come back and still perform at a high level.
"Mind, I was a bit surprised to hear some of the Rocks fans saying 'Hey Wilbur you were a lot thinner last time we saw you'.
"That was nearly six years ago and I've been in Germany for the most part of that time since - and they do cook some good food there so I've done well to keep myself trim.
"But there is a difference between being in lifestyle shape and basketball shape so hopefully I'll soon get back up to speed.
"Also, since leaving the UK last, I've felt that my game has been improving with each year - right up until the point I left Greece.
"Once I get my match-fitness back, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised as to how much I've improved."