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Statewide Sports 0

Joe Johnson Leads the Return of the Triplets

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It’s been more than 40 years since the most famous Triplets in Arkansas history took the nation by storm. In the late 1970s, student-athletes Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph pushed the Razorback basketball program to unprecedented heights. They won conference championships, lifted Arkansas to regular Top 5 national rankings and finished No. 3 in an NCAA Tournament.

Joe Johnson leads the best team in the world’s top 3-on-3 league.

Nowadays, there’s a new Arkansasified Triplets on the scene.

As with the ‘70s version, this team’s winning hearts nationwide while making our state proud.

And just as with the original Triplets, a supreme talent is at the forefront. In the 1970s, it was Moncrief, who eventually became the best shooting guard in the NBA in the years before Michael Jordan’s emergence.

Today’s Triplets are led by Joe Johnson, who joins Moncrief and Scottie Pippen as one of the three best NBA Arkansans of all time. Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, last played in the League as a bench player for the Houston Rockets in 2018. He’s found a new life in the world’s best 3-on-3 league.

The BIG3 League, founded in 2017 by hip hop mogul Ice Cube, features 12 teams that barnstorm across American cities playing each summer weekend. No team has a physical home, though the Triplets have an unmistakably Razorback bent. Johnson’s current teammates include his former Hog teammates Jannero Pargo and Sergerio “Teddy” Gipson. There’s also Al Jefferson, who would have played for the Hogs had he not gone pro out of high school.

Teddy Gipson

Jefferson was the team’s rock inside as the Triplets won seven of their first eight games. Gipson and Pargo added firepower from the perimeter, but it’s Johnson who was the biggest reason for the team’s No. 1 seed heading into the BIG3 playoffs this weekend.

Jannero Pargo

The 38-year-old Little Rock native has been the league’s MVP frontrunner. Not only has he led the BIG3 in scoring, setting the league’s season scoring record in the process, he’s also finished at or near the top in other major categories:

Assists

  1. Joe Johnson (31)
  2. Franklin Session (29)
  3. DeShawn Stevenson (27)

Steals

  1. David Hawkins (12)
  2. Joe Johnson (9)
  3. Glen Davis, Jason Richardson & Brandon Rush (7)

Rebounds

  1. Reggie Evans (87)
  2. Will McDonald (66)
  3. Joe Johnson & Josh Smith (60)

The BIG3’s half-court setting suits “Iso Joe” to a tee. Though the Triplets were usually down at halftime in regular-season games, Johnson was especially great at turning it on during the second half.

“Joe plays like Lakers LeBron plays,” BIG3 star Gilbert Arenas said. “In the first half, ‘I’m gonna keep feeding these guys and let these guys hit. Because the more they hit shots, the less you’re gonna focus on me. And then in the second half, I’m just gonna take over.’”

The first team to 50 points scores the victory, and Johnson has been great at helping the Triplets win that race. He fills the basket with the same kinds of shots that made him the No. 1 scoring NBA Arkansan of all time: three-pointers, side-step jumpers, mid-range floaters and the prettiest fadeaway this side of Kobe.

He’s also mastered the four-point shot, which can only be made from three circular zones 30 feet from the basket. In fact, Johnson hit the most spectacular shot of the regular season when he swished a stepback, game-winning four-pointer over Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly known as Chris Jackson, who is old enough to have played at LSU in the 1980s).

Photo credit: Razorback Communications 

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Little Rock native Evin Demirel is the author of African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories. Follow him on Twitter @evindemirel.

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