It’s been more than two years since Joe Johnson, the former Razorback great, made major waves in the NBA. After a thrilling playoff run with Utah in 2017, he spent some time in Houston and this past season didn’t play in the League.
Still, when it comes to elite basketball, the 38-year-old is far from washed up.
He’s shown ample proof these last couple weeks as an early MVP frontrunner in the world’s top 3-on-3 league. The Big3 League, co-founded by Ice Cube, boasts 12 teams filled with former NBA starters and stars including Gilbert Arenas, Jason Terry, Baron Davis, Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer.
Johnson, whose “Triplets” squad includes former Hogs Jannero Pargo and Teddy Gipson (as well as would-be Razorback Al Jefferson), has put on a show in leading his team to a 2-0 record. Johnson is second in the Big3 in points (47) and rebounds (24), first in assists (10) and No. 1 in silky smooth displays of assassin-like precision.
Case in point:
Notice the Little Rock native’s quickness off the spin (:29) and deadly tear drop (1:08) look nearly as sharp as ever.
UPDATE: And the buckets just keep on coming in Week 3, as well…
There’s a reason Johnson was nicknamed “Iso-Joe” while starring for the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, years in which he was elected to the All-Star Game seven times and put up multiple 20+ ppg seasons. His one-on-one game is perfectly suited to the 3-on-3 format.
“It’s not really an adjustment,” Johnson said. “It’s really just pick-up basketball on a big stage. Playing 3-on-3, it’s hard to double team but you have to give up something. For me, I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
No doubt, Joe Johnson’s especially enjoying hitting clutch shots to help seal wins in each of his first two games. He’s brought the same end-game poise to this league that he had in the NBA, where he hit eight game-winning shots at the buzzer in 10 seasons.
In the Big3, he’s even shown the ability to hit the four-point shot. This is any shot made from one of three “four-point zones” on circles 30 feet away from the basket.
Check out Joe Johnson pulling up from deep at 1:48 below.
“I loved it,” hip-hop mogul Ice Cube said afterward. Ice Cube, who co-founded the league in 2017 with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, then called Johnson “unstoppable.”
Johnson, who has been a vegan, does yoga and bikes, is clearly still in great shape. After reportedly earning more than $214 million in his NBA career, he doesn’t exactly need the $100,000 paycheck and cut of overall revenue the Big3 promises.
Still, for Johnson, is a wonderful way to stay in shape and play at an elite level. Plus, there’s always the the chance hat he could parlay this success into a return to the NBA once the season starts.
After sitting out 2018-19 that may seem like a long shot, but if anybody has proven he can make it, it’s Joe Johnson.
How Razorback Ties Caused Joe Johnson to Join the Big3 League
Earlier this spring, Johnson was still unsure if he wanted to play in the Big3. “Friends like Josh Childress, Jannero Pargo, Stephen Jackson and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf kept calling and texting him, encouraging him to join them in the BIG3,” according to Forbes’ Jeff Fedotin.
In the end, it was the prospect of playing with two Razorback teammates from the 2000-01 season (Pargo, seen below, and Teddy Gipson) which pushed him over the fence.
Those ’00-’01 Hogs went 20-11 and lost to Georgetown 61-63 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A few years later, Al Jefferson, then a highly recruited center out of Mississippi, committed to play for Stan Heath’s Razorbacks before entering his senior of high school.
But a pickup game with Michael Jordan and a hugely successful senior season in which he averaged 44 points a game changed Jefferson’s mind about attending college. He instead decided to jump straight into the NBA, where he ultimately had a 14-year career.
Who are the Triplets of the Big3?
Joe Johnson was named the captain of the Triplets, an expansion team for 2019.
Johnson played in the NBA for 17 seasons making seven All-Star appearances, an All-NBA 3rd team and was known as one of most lethal scorers in the league. For his career, he averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, tallying up 20,405 points and over 40,000 career minutes. Johnson’s longest stretch with a team was with Atlanta from 2005 to 2012, where he became Eastern Conference Player of the Month on multiple occasions and led them to the postseason five times.
[PS: Johnson is my Little Rock Central High classmate. Here’s a piece I wrote on him for SLAM.]
Jannero Pargo signed on to be a co-captain of the Triplets in March of 2019.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Pargo played collegiately with Triplets captain Joe Johnson on the University of Arkansas after transfering from Neosho County Community College.
After going undrafted, Pargo had a long-standing NBA career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards over the course 14 years. Pargo is now an assistant with the Windy City Bulls (Bulls G-League affiliate).
Sergerio “Teddy” Gipson
Entering his first season in the BIG3, Sergerio Gipson was taken with the first pick in the third round of the 2019 draft, 21st overall.
Gipson was born in Monroe, Louisiana and attended University of Arkansas with teammates Joe Johnson and Jannero Pargo. Playing in Arkansas all four years, Gipson didn’t get an opportunity to play in the NBA, but carved out an impressive european resume becoming a four-time Dutch league champion, three-time Dutch Cup champion, french league All-Star, two-time All-Dutch League team and four-time Dutch All-Star.
Head coach Lisa Leslie
Coach Lisa Leslie is basketball legend, having won two WNBA titles, 3 WNBA MVP awards and four Olympic Gold Medals for Team USA. Leslie was the first player to dunk in a WNBA game and elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Leslie joins BIG3 Championship head coach Nancy Lieberman as the only female head coaches of a professional mens team, further showing the league’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Al Jefferson signed to play for the Triplets as co-captain in March, 2019.
One of the last players to go from high-school to the NBA, Jefferson was drafted 15th overall based on his performances, skill, size and ability in school. Jefferson, born in Prentiss, Mississippi, posted 56-points in a high-school state semi-finals game and was rated as the number one center and fourth best prospect in the country.
Foregoing a college career that would have brought delight to Razorback fans worldwide, Jefferson started his NBA career with the Boston Celtics in 2004, posting solid statistics throughout his career. Most notably, Jefferson was known for being a double-double machine, averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds throughout his career.
Anderson was taken 15th overall in the 2019 BIG3 Draft. This will be Anderson’s second season in the BIG3
Last season, Anderson averaged 10.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2 assists in just under 14 minutes per game. Anderson has shown an ability to play and guard multiple positions in the BIG3 as he played in different roles with the Killer 3’s last year.
Anderson was a four-year starter at Michigan State, earning All-Big Ten honors as a senior, when he led the Spartans to the Final Four. A versatile baller who’s played small forward and shooting guard in the pros, he was in the NBA as recently as the 2016-17 season, when he played 30 games for the Clippers. He’s also played for the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors, a sports betting forum favorite to repeat as NBA champion in 2019-2020.
Between two separate stints in the NBA, Anderson was an MVP in two different countries. He was the Croatian Cup MVP in 2009 and the Spanish Kings Cup MVP in 2011. In 330 career NBA games, Anderson averaged 7.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
Chris Johnson was picked with the 2nd overall selection in the 2019 BIG3 draft. Johnson was a standout at the combine and has a great combination of size and skills.
Born in Washington D.C., Johnson was a standout at Louisiana State University for his four years there between 2005 and 2009. He stands behind only Shaquille O’Neal on the Tigers all-time blocks list.
Johnson went undrafted in the 2009 NBA draft, but signed with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2011 after spending a season overseas. From there, Johnson played for the New Orleans Hornets, Santa Cruz Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves before going back overseas. Over the past few seasons, Johnson was a Croatian Cup champion in 2018 and CBA Slam-Dunk Contest winner in 2014.