At age 39, Joe Johnson isn’t thinking about the end of his basketball career. The seven-time All-Star and reigning Big3 MVP played for Overseas Elite in The Basketball Tournament this summer and told Bob Holt of The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that playing overseas might be his next step.
“I still have that itch to hoop,” Johnson said. “I still love the game. I just can’t give it up right now.”
Johnson said some NBA teams also expressed interest in signing him next season. He scored more than 20,000 points in 17 NBA seasons, but hasn’t played in the league since 2017/18 when he spent the year as a reserve with the Jazz and Rockets. He was with the Pistons in training camp last fall, but lost a battle for the final roster spot to Christian Wood.
Johnson got plenty of accolades from former NBA players for his TBT performance. Dwyane Wade tweeted that “not many guys could guard him on the second unit,” and Darrell Walker said there’s still a place for Johnson in the NBA.
“He doesn’t need to play 35 minutes a night anymore, but he definitely can play 16 or 17 minutes and help your team,” Walker said. “Joe would be a great locker-room guy, too. He’s a good dude. As the old-school guys say, ‘Joe is a pro’s pro.'”
Johnson revived his career in 2019 with a dominant performance in the BIG3. He said the decision to participate was “therapeutic” after his mother died of cancer in February of that year. Trail Blazers assistant coach and fellow Arkansas alum Jannero Pargo contacted Johnson and urged him to play.
“Being an only child, that was tough losing her. I just wanted something to keep me busy, and the BIG3 was it,” Johnson recalled. “Playing was probably the best thing for me. That’s how Jannero presented it to me, prior to me committing to being in the BIG3. He said, ‘I think it will be a good stress reliever, and it’ll give us a chance to play on the same team again. We can have some fun and kick everybody’s butt on the weekends.’ “
Johnson was clearly the best player in the BIG3 during his first season, leading the league in scoring, assists, and its unique category of 4-pointers. He had planned to return this year, but the season was wiped out because of COVID-19. Johnson credits his dedication to health and fitness to helping him stay productive as he nears age 40.
“Right now I’m in some of the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he said. “I watch what I eat. I do a lot of hot yoga, which is so detoxifying for your body, so good for your muscles and joints and bones. I know I can’t give that up, and that’s definitely what’s helped keep me going over the years. Especially these later years.”