Clay Johnson can still remember his first taste of the Border War, a day filled with elbows and brawling, and Norm Stewart and Ted Owens nearly going at it on the sideline.
It was January 1977, and Johnson, a junior college transfer at Missouri, was playing his first basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse. Most remember KU’s Donnie Von Moore chasing Mizzou’s Jim Kennedy out the northeast tunnel of the Fieldhouse, the result of an on-court melee. But Johnson remembers the moments before, when Kennedy elbowed KU’s Herb Nobles, escalating the situation.
“Coach Stewart and Ted Owens got in each other’s face on the sideline,” Johnson says. “The photo was in the newspaper the next day.”
More than three decades later, such memories are all that’s left of the Kansas-Missouri rivalry, the series indefinitely put on hold by KU after Missouri left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2012. But Johnson, a former Tiger and Kansas City native, is bringing a dose of the rivalry back on Saturday — exhibition style.
In the seventh annual Kansas City Magic Celebrity Basketball Game, a group of former Kansas players will face off against a slew of Missouri alums at 5 p.m. Saturday at Municipal Auditorium.
Johnson, a Kansas City native who played three seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle SuperSonics in the early 1980s, started the Clay Johnson Foundation in 2004, an organization designed to mentor and help kids in the Kansas City area. Three years later, Magic Johnson, a former Lakers teammate, came to town, headlining the 2007 celebrity game.
But this year, with the real Border War on ice, a friend and promoter suggested an alumni game between players from both sides of the state line. Johnson loved the idea, soon enlisting help from plenty of former players that still live in the area.
When he called former KU guard Billy Thomas, a local high school coach, he pitched it like this: “It’ll just be a friendly get-together between old rivals.”
“No Clay,” Thomas answered. “We don’t just get together and play when it’s KU-MU. It’s a war.”
The trash talk has continued. Former MU star Kareem Rush, who is expected to play, told Thomas he’d drop 50 points. And Johnson is hoping for a solid turnout. The cheapest tickets are going for $10, and portions of the gate will go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City.
In addition to Rush, former Tigers Anthony Peeler, Willie Smith, Jason Sutherland, Doug Smith, Derrick Chievous and Jevon Crudup are expected to participate. Stewart is expected to be on hand as well. On the Kansas side, Thomas will be joined by a group that includes former Jayhawks Conner Teahan, Jeff Hawkins, Sean Pearson, Jeff Graves and Bud Stallworth.
For some, though, the rivalry is secondary, taking a back seat to the purpose of the evening.
“Clay called and said it was for the kids,” says former MU star Derrick Chievous, who is hoping to be there on Saturday.
For now, Saturday’s game might be the closest KU and MU come to competing in basketball any time soon. Johnson, though, is hoping for fewer elbows and less brawling.
“There’s nothing like Missouri and Kansas,” Johnson says. “It’s almost like a real hate-type thing. It’s still all in fun, though.”