NBA Q&A: Kevin Johnson

Posted by Unknown on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Paul Coro

(On his memories of that Suns era) 
“I remember when I first got here – Feb. 23, I think it might have been, Feb. 25, 1988. And this organization was in a shambles. Drug challenges and a host of things. We only won 28 games that year and the next year, we had the biggest turnaround in NBA history or one of the three biggest turnarounds in NBA history. We had a great run. For 11 years straight, we were in the playoffs and I was a part of that team and it was about winning and it was about how you won and it was about always contending for a championship. So I’ll skip to the last couple years before I get to this year. The last couple years, I’d come to Phoenix and I’d be here once or twice a year. I’d come to a game and that’s not what we built. That’s not the product that we built. We built something that had a standard and a tradition of something that was at the highest level and highest caliber. I remember last year watching a game and thinking, ‘My goodness, that’s not who we’re supposed to be.’ The owner Robert did a great thing. He brought back the right guy at the right time. I think all of us who saw Jeff Hornacek play over the years know this guy was meant to be a coach. He was lucky to be a NBA player but he was meant to be a coach and he’d probably tell you that. It worked out for him and he had a great career and he exceeded everyone’s expectation but he was meant to be a coach. He brought Mark West out of the front office. Two of my best friends are coaching this team. What I saw at the beginning of the year when they got off to a great start and certainly now are in playoff contention and shocking everybody with a group of young players. I don’t think many people around the league can name three players on this team but that’s who he is – Jeff Hornacek. He gets a lot of credit for what they’ve done.”
(On comparisons of the Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe backcourt to when he shared the Suns backcourt with Jeff Hornacek) 
“I think it’s a little too early for that for me to say. I haven’t seen them play that much. They came to Sacramento. I watch them when they’re televised nationally but I haven’t seen them play that much. I know they’re both very talented. I just wish them a healthy season and a chance to play together. It’s hard to assemble pieces and play a couple games together and then not play and then play together and then not play. Their upside and potential is great but I haven’t seen them enough to see the similarities.”
(On being named a Hall of Fame finalist) 
“That was overwhelming and very humbling. The first thing you think about is all the people you need to thank for even being listed. Everybody here in Phoenix I ever played with. Then, the second thing you think about is when you look at the list of people who make it in the Hall of Fame, that’s a pretty big deal with the players that end up in the Hall of Fame. I’m a kid from Sacramento, grew up in the poor part of a community like South Phoenix here. To be able to go to college and play a great career and now be a finalist for the NBA, it’s really overwhelming and quite humbling.”
(On whether he had imagined getting a chance to be in the Hall of Fame) 
“I don’t think you ever say that’s a goal. But at some point you get nominated. In my case, I got nominated a couple years ago so I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I’m very competitive so then it becomes a quick goal. If I got nominated, I need to get in. So I got nominated and this year I’m a finalist, which is great. Mitch Richmond and Alonzo Mourning and I think Tim Hardaway and some coaches. Everybody that’s listed as a finalist is certainly worthy to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m just happy to be hanging out with the group. 
(On being synonymous with an era of Suns basketball)
“You’ve got to be older for that to happen, for starters. I never thought I’d say that. I remember my first year, Eddie Johnson was a few years older than me. I thought he was old as dirt. Now, I’m past Eddie and we’re both going to get AARP around the same time. How did that happen? You know what’s interesting. I was telling this story yesterday or recently to somebody. From 1988, we had this big turnaround with the 1988-89 season. I was 22 years old. If kids were fans and let’s say they were 12, they were kids that were 10 years younger. And then obviously my year, 22, and then people 32, 42, 52. You’re talking about a 40-, 50-year span of people you impact because we had such success over a 10-year period. So now I’ll bump into people that at the time were 12 and 20-some odd years later, they’re 32 and they had kids who are now 12. So in a weird way, it’s the multi-generational thing that we did for that 10-, 11-year run that I think put an imprint on this community and organization. For me, I’ve always had a love affair with the fans here. I was thankful and they supported me in way that I couldn’t have even imagined, not just on the court but what we tried to do off the court as well.”
(On how he felt about celebrating a dunk from a playoff game and series that the Suns lost) 
“Yes, I have mixed feeling. I thought this was a highlight. This is so consistent (of former Tribune writer Mike Tululmello). We’d win a game and he’d go, ‘But you had four turnovers.’ Thanks for being true. It’s funny. My mixed feelings for this community on the court and off the court. On the court, 93 Finals we come up short. You think you have this window and you think you’re going to get back and the next two years, this year we’re honoring and the year after, we run into Houston and they win it. So for three years in a row, we lose to the NBA champs. So after that, Charles moves on and that window is close. So, yes, I have real strong mixed feelings around the 93, 94, 95 seasons because I felt we were primed to contend and win a championship and we didn’t do that. No matter what we say, that was our moment and we didn’t do it. We didn’t seize it. And then the other moments around Phoenix are 1988, there’s a governor who repeals a Martin Luther King holiday. I’m like, ‘Who takes a holiday back from Martin?’ I remember that very vividly and then you fast-forward to the immigration challenges here a few years ago and then certainly what’s happening now. Unfortunately, those decisions don’t represent the people in Phoenix and Arizona I have met. I hope the legislature here does the right thing and the governor does the right thing because you don’t want to taint the great state of Arizona and what it means here. I have both mixed emotions sometimes on and off the court but overall it’s been pretty good.”
(On Jason Collins signing a 10-day contract with Brooklyn) 
“I watched him at Stanford and booed him and rooted against him because I went to Cal and he went to Stanford so I did not like him then. Very honest about that. But as soon as he came out and made his comments on the Sports Illustrated story, we all have a responsibility to support him. I’ve been a huge supporter. I saw him two weeks ago at the White House and I thanked him for his courage and being strong and wished him well and to keep fighting hard. I think it’s incredible for him. I think it’s incredible for the league. If I’m on the Nets, my commitment is I want to get in the playoffs and I want to go far. All that is fine but I need him to win games and I think he’s up for that challenge.”
(On whether guarding Michael Jordan or being a mayor is harder) 
“One is impossible and the other is quite thankless. On trying to guard Michael Jordan, you don’t guard Michael Jordan. It just doesn’t happen. That’s impossible. It’s like trying to walk on water. It’s just not happening. And then being mayor, I do get that question quite often. Politics is hard. In sports, you know it’s a contact sport. You know it’s physical and people throw elbows. I didn’t expect to be a mayor and go into a neighborhood association meeting and have some older ladies in the corner that are very short have sharper elbows than people I played against. It’s a contact sport. Politics, in many respects, is harder than playing in the NBA. You have a very clear vision and goal. You only have to rally 12 teammates around that. In the city of Sacramento, we have nearly 500,000 constituents. You have to get everybody on the same page. It’s challenging. But both equally fulfilling.”
(On what he thinks of the lasting power of his 1994 dunk on Olajuwon) 
“It would not have been if it had not been for the growth and success of the NBA and social media or it wouldn’t have been. At the time, for like the next two weeks, every single show showed that dunk. It didn’t remember where I was at or the time of day. So it was imprinted on a lot of people’s minds and we didn’t win. We’re celebrating that dunk but we didn’t win that game and we didn’t win that series. Going back to mixed feelings. I run into young people today and some of them say, ‘Hey, were you the guy that used to dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon?’ I’m thinking, ‘How do they know?’ But these YouTube things and every year they do top NBA dunks and it usually makes the top five. It’s pretty cool because people wouldn’t believe me had that dunk not continued to resurface year in and year out. I’d have to start bringing a little video or DVD and start handing it out for people who didn’t believe me otherwise.”
(On whether he has talked to Olajuwon about the dunk) 
“I actually would rather not know what his thoughts were. So I was at the All-Star Game in New Orleans and the year before it was in Houston. Hakeem was participating in both Houston a year ago and just a few ago in New Orleans and I saw him and I thought about going up and saying hello. I better not test my luck. I better just keep it the way it is. I don’t know what his thoughts were. I will tell you what we said to me at half-court after the dunk. When I did the dunk and I was hopping all around and I was all excited, I’m at half court and I could see this big shadow coming. I’m looking and I’m like, ‘Dang, it’s him.’ He gets to me and he says, ‘Little man, you got me this time but don’t it again, little man. Don’t do it again, little man.’ And then you know me. I only had to do it once. I took off to the free throw and it ended that. It’ll be something I’m sure we talk about at some point but I’m in no hurry. 
“On the court, he played a few more years. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up while he was a player. I’m smarter than that.”
(On how what he learned from his time in Phoenix) 
“My story is a Phoenix story. Every single thing I’ve learned from 21 years of age to 33 – 12-year period that I was here in Phoenix. I learned here. So when I ran for mayor, I watched mayors in Phoenix prior to running for mayor. I watched governors in Arizona prior to running for mayor. I watched a committed ownership group have this incredible relationship with its fans. I saw an organization and a team that used to play at the Madhouse on McDowell have enough success to build a private/public partnership new arena in 1992-93 and I saw it revitalize a downtown. Phoenix was a ghost town. All of you who are old enough to know, there was nothing downtown in 1988. Nothing in 89 and 90 and so forth. So I saw that. I saw what an economic impact or what a catalytic impact a new arena could have downtown. Fast forward, I’m running for mayor. I get elected. Next thing you know, the team is thinking about leaving. I just go back in my Phoenix playbook and read and talk to people and remember what it was like. I basically articulated a vision in Sacramento where our community said, ‘We’re going to fight to keep our team. We’re going to fight to build an arena. We’re going to have a public-private partnership. We’re going to have one of the best comebacks in sports history.’ We did it in Sacramento but everything I learned was here in Phoenix.”
(On becoming the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors)
“It happens in the next month or two. I think most of you know Scott Smith from Mesa is running for governor here. I’m a big supporter of his and Fred DuVal. A true politician. I’ve got a Republican I like and a Democrat. He’ll have to step down to run for governor and I’m the first vice president so that will happen and I’ll preside over all mayors in 2014 and 2015 through June. It will be a tremendous honor.”
(On his optimism for the coming steps on Sacramento’s arena plans)
“Very optimistic. For some of you who may or may not know, we’re in court right now because there’s this effort to do a ballot initiative to say that the city council and the mayor could not vote and do what we did to build an arena, which is invest $258 million. That’s within our right to do that. So that’s not the issue. But in California, you can do a ballot initiative on anything so a group of people basically say they got the signatures to qualify to do a ballot initiative, which would require citizens to vote on it. They’re in court because there were nine variations of the petitions and they didn’t do the enactment clauses and a host of things you need to do procedurally. The judge will rule on that we think on Tuesday. I feel very confident that we’ll prevail in that instance. Assuming that’s the case on Tuesday, it’s clear sailing to build a brand new arena in Sacramento that will be open in 2016.”