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Politics Is Like Basketball, Says Mayor And Former NBA Player Kevin Johnson

Randy Miramontez
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player, will be in Dallas for the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors holds its annual meeting in Dallas beginning Friday. More than 200 mayors are expected to attend. The event will be presided over by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA point guard who is now in his second term as mayor of his hometown.

In this week’s Friday Conversation, he spoke with KERA’s Stephen Becker about how cities can be leaders on national issues:

Interview Highlights: Kevin Johnson...

...on the importance of strong public schools: “All mayors in this country believe that you cannot have a great city without great public schools. Every key indicator that makes cities successful, public safety, economic development, everything all boils back to how well we’re educating our children. Mayors understand they play a critical role.  Because if we don’t have a highly skilled and educated workforce there’s no way we will be able to compete.”

...on the role of cities in dealing with climate change, the environment: “We like to think that we as cities are the leaders. And one of the goals for the conference is to show best practices so that other mayors can show good examples, good concrete examples that they can replicate around the country and climate is something I’m very proud to say that we’re being a leader in that area. And the White House has reached out to us and want to partner as well.”

on cities playing a bigger role in light of federal government gridlock: “We work really hard as mayors to make real change, change that you can see and touch and you can feel. That’s why we believe Washington and Congress in particular should work in closer partnership with mayors. … We want to work with our national leaders in Washington, but we won’t wait, we can’t wait and we haven’t. We are unique in that we don’t have the luxury of talking rhetoric. We have to create jobs. We have to do it now. Our constituents are demanding real action.”

…on how basketball is like politics: “When I first got in the NBA, I knew basketball was a contact sport. And people threw really sharp elbows. … I did not realize that politics was equally as physical and as much as a contact sport in basketball. There’s a direct correlation. In all fun, there’s contact sport, that’s the fun part. But in reality when you’re a basketball player and I was a point guard, you have to create a vision for your teammates. And as a mayor you have to create a vision for your constituents.”

Photo Credit: Randy Miramontez /

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.
Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.