One of the most iconic players in the history of basketball made a cameo in Kansas City on Saturday afternoon.
Julius Erving — also known as Dr. J to those who know the game — has transitioned from retired player to head coach. He mans Tri-State, one of 12 teams in the three-on-three pro basketball league called the BIG3, which brought six teams to Sprint Center on Saturday afternoon for a triple-header.
Erving’s illustrious pro career across both the ABA and NBA ran from 1971-87.
His Philadelphia 76ers squared off against the Kansas City Kings on a few occasions, including a 127-119 victory over the Kings on Feb. 28, 1985 in Kansas City. Erving tallied 26 points in 34 minutes on that day. (The Kings that night were led by Mike Woodson, who came off the bench and scored 23 on 9-for-18 shooting.)
On Saturday at Sprint Center, after his Tri-State club finished off a 50-46 win over Mario Chalmers’ 3 Headed Monsters, Erving reflected a tad on some of those days in KC.
“I remember being cold every time I got here,” Erving said, “because it was the winter months, and we always had two games here a year… I brought my biggest and baddest fur coat. Sweaters underneath. I think I had long johns on. Possibly.
“I came to play. The (Kings were) always competitive, because they were good. They were well-coached. Some of the players were very, very notable.”
As far as Saturday’s three-on-three basketball is concerned, the performance of the day was put on by Joe Johnson.
Former KU icon Drew Gooden’s personality inspired more smiles than his play with 3’s Company, and former KU star Chalmers scored just six points in his game against Tri-State.
Johnson’s Triplets club dropped a 50-47 decision to Power in the second game of the triple-header, but Johnson was tough to stop.
Johnson, a 17-year NBA veteran with seven All-Star appearances, worked his way to a team-best 17 points and seven rebounds. He unfurled smooth jumpers and used a lightning-quick handle to slither around defenders.
“I believe Joe Johnson is the toughest player in the league,” said Corey Magette. “His nickname is Iso Joe because he makes plays. I remember doing the halftime interview, and I said, ‘We’re not worried about the first half. It’s more about what happens in the second half with Joe Johnson. That’s really where the thrives the best.’ And you could see right away. He made a lot of big-time buckets.”
Johnson’s NBA resume speaks for itself: seven-time All-Star. All-rookie selection. One-time All-NBA honor. Five seasons averaging north of 20 points per game and six averaging better than 15. Those numbers dipped as his career entered its twilight.
Johnson leads the BIG3 in points, field goals, assists and four-pointers.
“He’s two years removed from the NBA — with no injuries,” Magette said. “When he plays, he’s still playing at the highest level as an NBA player. So for us, we really have to get ourselves mentally prepared to battle against Joe Johnson.”
In Saturday’s three games: 3’s Company had a 50-34 win over Bivouac, Power’ beat the Triplets 50-47 win and and Tri-State’s 50-46 victory over the 3 Headed Monsters.
The Big3 was launched by rap legend Ice Cube in 2017 and has its own set of rules.
Games are played to 50. Halftime happens when a team reaches 25 points.
There are four-point shots, which players can score by placing any part of his foot on any part of three hot spots dotted around the perimeter and hitting the shot.
Another difference is in the fouls. Shooting fouls give players one chance to hit a free throw with the value of wherever the shot was taken. So, for instance, if a player was fouled on a layup attempt, he would get one free throw, which would be worth two points.
That changes the dynamics of the game in a few ways. Defenses are reluctant to deploy double teams, lest they leave someone open under the basket. They don’t commit shooting fouls at the same rate, because the opponent can earn the points back with one shot.
Conducive to the way Johnson likes to play, really.
Erving had a front-row seat to all of it.
“I think all the games were very competitive,” Erving said. “I think the fans were treated to some special basketball.”