100 in 100: Graham County’s Wade Crane, pool’s Boom Boom

The Robbinsville native was Pool & Billiards Magazine’s Player of the Year in 1985

Robbinsville's Wade Crane was Pool & Billiards Magazine’s Player of the Year in 1985.

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Graham County

Wade Crane

Forced to work at an early age after his father was killed in a car accident, Crane got his first job as a 12-year-old at a pool room called Cooper’s in his hometown of Robbinsville. While most of his time there was spent doing odd jobs such as sweeping the floors and shining shoes, he also proved to be a natural with a cue stick in his hand — even though it was technically illegal for him to play until he turned 16.


Tribute to Wade Crane aka “Billy Johnson” from Greg on Vimeo.

Although he was a standout fullback on the Robbinsville High football team, helping the Black Knights to the state playoffs in both his junior and senior seasons, pool was his game of choice. He became so good at it that after moving to Chicago to live with his brother, he quit his day job to make a living hustling. His reputation as a pool shark became so widespread that he took on the alias Billy Johnson so he could play money matches without being recognized for who he actually was.

Crane eventually gave up playing, returning home to North Carolina to open his own pool hall in Asheville and then later, a video arcade in Robbinsville.

But the itch returned in 1983 when, at the age of 39, he was lured back to pool by the big money payouts being offered in organized pocket billiards tournaments. Two years later, he was the nation’s top money winner, earning him recognition as Pool & Billiards Magazine’s Player of the Year. He also recorded a perfect score in the finals of a 9-Ball tournament at Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a feat that to this day has yet to be repeated by any other competitor in the pool tournament final match.

Known as “Boom Boom” because of the sound his powerful breaks made, Crane once again began using his given name after winning world championships in both 8- and 9-Ball during the 1980s. He was also famous for his series of instructional videos for beginners and amateur players and the monthly column he wrote for Pool & Billiards Magazine called “Crane’s Winning Ways.”
He was posthumously inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame after his death in a car accident in 2010.