Make sure you watch Joe Johnson while you still can.
Johnson, aka Iso Joe, has been tearing up the BIG3 this summer. The seven-time NBA All-Star has migrated his game to three-on-three basketball, and it’s paying big dividends. Johnson leads the league—filled with former NBA pros—in points and assists, while also coming up second in rebounds (and first in four pointers!) But amidst his success, Johnson still isn’t sure he’s found his second career.
“I’m not sure about the longevity in it for me,” Johnson told The Crossover when asked about his future in the BIG3. “I got two kids. I have a son that’s 12 and a daughter that’s five. The summer is obviously our down time for us to spend a lot of time together. I’m not sure—I can’t promise you I’ll definitely be back next season or the year after that. I don’t really know.”
That means this summer may be your last chance to watch one of the game’s most fearless shotmakers isolate a hapless defender on the wing—unless the NBA comes calling. Earlier this month, The Crossover caught up with Johnson to discuss why he’s so good at three-on-three, a potential NBA return, and much more.
Rohan Nadkarni: What was your mindset heading into this summer? Was this something you wanted to do for fun? Or were you looking for competition?
Joe Johnson: Well, honestly, I was a little reluctant to play. I was dealing with some family issues and I just didn’t know if I was going to give it my all. I committed with like, two days left to the deadline. I told Ice Cube I was in and I would play. I wanted to use it as therapy, and then I still have that competitive edge to where I love to compete, I love to still hoop. And I work out daily, so this will be cool. I committed for those reasons, and then not only that, two of my college teammates are on my BIG3 team, Segerio Gipson and Jannero Pargo, we all played college ball together. I figured that would be fun as well, I just took up the challenge.
RN: Were you surprised at all how quickly you took to the league?
JJ: I’m not surprised at all. This is what I expected. I work out six days a week, I’m hooping or I’m working on my game probably five days a week. This is not a surprise to me, maybe to a lot other people. I put in a lot of hard work and effort to perfect my craft. Three-on-three basketball, you can’t really help, its mano a mano, and I love those challenges.
RN: What is it about three-on-three that lends itself to you being successful?
JJ: You can’t double team, really. You have to give up something. If you double team, then you give up a dunk or layup, or a wide-open jump shot. I take my time, pick my spots, and enjoy the process.
RN: How would you describe the competitiveness of the league right now?
JJ: I think the competitors are very good. Teams are spread out to where there’s not one dominant team, but there are a lot of pretty good teams. We got some challenges ahead of us the next couple weeks.
We all take this very seriously. Guys want to win. We don’t take this for granted. I could really see this growing. I could see this becoming a big deal, obviously it’s an Olympic sport now. I think it’s only going to get better each year.
RN: Recently, you had a chance to go up against your former teammate Josh Smith. What was that experience like? Was it surreal for you to go head-to-head with him in Atlanta?
JJ: Nah, for me it wasn’t surreal. We both still live in Atlanta. We’re neighbors, actually, and we play pickup ball quite a bit. We enjoyed it, honestly, I can speak for him on that as well. We appreciate the fans who came out and showed us a lot of love and support. Those were glory days for me, and Josh as well. And then we gave them something to cheer about, it was a great game.
RN: You obviously spent time with the Nets during your NBA career. What did you make of Kyrie and KD signing there? Could you have seen that happening a couple years ago?
JJ: Yeah, yeah, I could see it. The Nets are a great organization, a great franchise, man. I definitely enjoyed my duration there. And it was fun. Playing in New York, I had a great time. Kyrie being from Jersey, Kevin Durant being from D.C., they are both from around the area. It’s like home to both of them. I think they’re going to do great.
RN: Do you think the way guys have approached free agency has changed since you had to make those decisions? Sometimes it feels like guys are picking cities over the actual teams.
JJ: Nah, I don’t think it’s changed. I think guys are just taking more control of their careers. The big-market teams, the big-city teams, or the great weather cities have already had pretty good teams. Obviously Kawhi being from California, he wanted to go home and play in L.A. I think it’s great for the league, it spreads out the talent. The West is loaded. I can’t wait for the season to start.
RN: Has your play in the BIG3 built any momentum toward an NBA return? Is getting back to the NBA even a goal of yours?
JJ: Yes, I’d love to get back and play in the NBA. It’s not my ultimate goal, it wasn’t my goal getting into the BIG3. But if the opportunity presents itself, I would take upon the challenge. I would love to. But, I got a job to do, and my agent has a job to do. I’m not sure about the momentum or how it’s going, but I just focus on what I can do and what I can control.
RN: What does it mean to you that throughout your career, your teams have trusted you to take the big shot late in games?
JJ: It’s meant a lot to me, man. Obviously I look forward to those moments, and I try to flourish in those moments. I just try to do whatever I can to get my team over the hump. Whether it’s the right pass, the right shot, or the right defensive play, whatever the case may be. But in those situations where I’ve made big shots in the clutch, it just goes to the focus or the grind that I’ve put into the game.
RN: What’s been the most rewarding part of playing in the BIG3?
JJ: I’d probably say getting a chance to play with my college teammates again. We weren’t just teammates, we’ve been best friends for over 20 years. At our age, to still be able to compete and play at a high level, it says a lot about us and how we’ve been able to take care of our bodies. We continue to love and enjoy the game.