Tuesday, July 31, 2012
LITTLE ROCK Of all the Razorbacks who have become pro stars, Joe Johnson likely spent the least time on The Hill.
He played a little more than a season and a half’s worth of games before entering the 2001 NBA Draft. Since then, he’s played in three cities, racked up six All-Star selections, inked one of largest contracts in league history and recently became the face of the new Brooklyn Nets franchise.
Through it all - the ups with Phoenix, the downs with Atlanta - one thing has remained constant through the arc of his career: an enduring love for his home state and its people.
Whether sponsoring a Jammin’ for Jackets fundraiser basketball tournament, donating money to his alma mater, supporting Mike Beebe’s 2010 re-election bid or working a basketball camp at the UA, Johnson again and again comes back to his roots.
As most fans know, Johnson’s typically not the most outspoken guy - random karaoke night appearance at Willy D’s notwithstanding. All the same, he has found himself a leading spokesperson of the world’s hottest basketball franchise, based in the nation’s media mecca. In Brooklyn’s massive new advertising campaign, he was given a platform to tout any aspect of his life he wanted.
His teammates talked about hobbies or family. Johnson chose to provide, in essence, free advertising for his beloved university:
Not that anybody in the borough actually cares, according to Jason Gay, a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal:
"Heading east on the BQE toward Williamsburg there's a hello from recent hire Joe Johnson saying he's a 'lifelong Razorback,' Gay wrote. "No disrespect to the University of Arkansas, but nobody in Brooklyn cares. Tell us if Joe gets his pizza at Di Fara or Spumoni Gardens."
Apparently, in the modern sports world, it pays much more to overlook the past and simply promote the present.
Evin Demirel, a freelance sportswriter, is based in North Little Rock. Follow him on Twitter @evindemirel.