This Saturday and Sunday, Joe Johnson serves as honorary chairman of Hoop Jams, a three-on-three basketball tournament sponsored by Arkansas Baptist College at the Clinton Presidential Center. In advance of the tournament, the former Razorback and perennial NBA All-Star sat down with the Times to talk about the possibility of a lockout, what Mike Anderson’s return means for the Hogs and his future acting plans.
Why’d you decide to get involved in Hoop Jams?
It’s a chance to give back a little and show my appreciation for what the state and the city of Little Rock have done for me.
That you would appear at Hoop Jams was announced while the Hawks were still in the playoffs. Did you not anticipate making it to the finals, or was your appearance always contingent on how things went in the playoffs?
I think there would’ve been an exception made (laughs).
Hoop Jams seems to be an effort to resurrect the spirit of Hoop Fest. Did you play in it when you were younger?
I grew up playing Hoop Fest. I went to every one, and I played in it three times, and we won it all three years.
I know you’re a humble dude, but could you win this tournament playing only with your left hand with two not-good players for teammates?
Of course. I would find a way. I’d definitely pull it out some way.
You think there’ll be a lockout?
I hope not. The player’s union met [last week] in Miami and from my understanding there’s been progress. I think we will lockout, but by the time pre-season hits, we will be back playing.
Would you consider playing in China or Russia or elsewhere abroad if you’re locked out?
I’ve thought about that. That’s something I would love to do. I think it would be a challenge and something different. I’ve talked to my agent about it. But it’s the liability — if you go over there and get hurt, your contract is void.
During the Arkansas coaching search, you publicly came out in favor of Mike Anderson and said that he was the man to “get the program back where it needs to be.”
I played under Coach Anderson two years, and he taught me so much on the court and off the court. On the court, he had no favorites. Everybody was equal. He treated me with the same respect as the last man on the bench. I thought he was a great player’s coach. The way he communicated to me might’ve been a little different from how he communicated to you depending on how we handled it. You can’t jump on every guy as a player. Some guys get down, or some it might rev them up.
When you said “get the program back where it needs to be,” did you mean that it needs to return to the run-and-gun, aggressive defense, 40 Minutes of Hell style?
I think it does. Honestly, it’s hard for us to get a true big man. With the athletes we always get — guys that can score and run up and down the court all day long — I think it fits perfect for Coach A. He’s great at getting those guys.
I’m positive that he’ll get us back to where we need to be.
Does this get you back in the program more?
Yeah, definitely. Nothing against Stan Heath and Pelphrey, but I didn’t play for them. Now with Coach A, I’m going to be up there more and try to be more hands on with him.
You know there’s a video of you singing karaoke to “Billie Jean” on YouTube? Is that something you like to do?
The PR people got me. But it’s all fun and games. I enjoyed it. You’ll probably get something else on YouTube next year.
You’ve got places in Little Rock, Atlanta and Miami. How do you divide your time?
I work in Atlanta, and I’m there the whole season. Then in the summer time I’ve got roughly four months to divide my time between Little Rock and Miami. I spend a lot more time here in Little Rock, but I train and work out in Miami.
I love Little Rock, but Little Rock versus Miami?
(Laughs) It’s great, but I’m from here and I always get the chance to come up and hang out with family and friends.
Is there a restaurant or a gym or a street or some place that you always think of when you think of Little Rock? Sort of your quintessential Little Rock spot?
Probably the house that I grew up in out in Fourche Dam. My grandmother stayed about 10 houses down from me and my mother. My grandmother still lives in the house and we just had a cookout. Every time I go back to the neighborhood, it always takes me back to when I was a young’n.
What do you do for fun in Little Rock?
Pretty much the norm. Movies, bowling and me and my cousins — I’ve got a few young cousins who just graduated from high school — always go out to my mother’s house, where she’s got a real basketball goal in a pool. Me and my cousins and my uncles and my friends we all get together and play five on five in the pool and it is a dogfight. It’s a lot of fun.
You’ve still got, basketball gods willing, a number of years left in the tank to play professionally. Still, have you thought about what you might do after retirement?
I got big plans, baby (laughs). My agent and publicist are in LA, so I’m thinking of trying to get this acting bug going, maybe do some sitcoms, have a couple of cameos and see how that goes. Or who knows, maybe when I’m done I’ll go up there and do some coaching? When I’m not in LA acting, I could be in Fayetteville coaching (laughs).
I think that a lot of people would be surprised to hear that you’re interested in acting because you’re such a low-key dude.
I think that’s what plays a big part. That’s why I could do it.
You could be the straight man.
I heard you’ve got a shark tank in your condo on Third Street.
Yeah. They’re not in there now because the tank is getting cleaned out. When I was first getting my condo built, I thought that would be cool.
What kind of sharks are they?
Honestly, I have no idea.
But they’re not like Jaws?
No, they’re baby sharks.
I feel like that would be the ultimate pick-up line, ‘Hey, wanna come and see my shark tank?’
(Laughs) It would be a good one, huh? I may’ve gotten away with it a few times.
You’ve still got the Super Truck?
Still got it [see a pic here]. It runs like a Cadillac. We get on the highway with it; it runs smooth.
What’s an example of an outing that’s appropriate for the Super Truck out? The grocery store? A trip to Best Buy? Or does it have to be more of a road trip?
More so a road trip, or if you’ve got a lot of friends or family in town and y’all hanging out, the Super Truck is good for that.