There’s more than one reason for kids to “look up” to 7’3” Curtis Johnson.
Johnson, a Queens resident and former Red Storm big man at St. John’s University, will perform in entertainment basketball games at York College on June 4 and 6, to amuse and mentor kids from Pre-K to eight grade.
“I just want to teach them to respect each other, respect themselves and each other and just to have fun,” Johnson said about the show’s purpose.
Johnson also wants to spread positive thinking to the kids by letting them know of his philosophy that life has unlimited possibilities – a message he lives every day.
Johnson had big dreams after graduating St. John’s with a Bachelor’s degree in theology.
He went to try out for various professional basketball teams, even as far as Fujian, China, hoping to make his way through the system and hit the hardwood of the NBA.
Although he can dunk without leaving his feet, injuries plagued the 7-footer.
“I thought I would be an NBA player and maybe a pastor someday, but life didn’t turn out that way,” he said, adding “but I didn’t get stuck there.”
When basketball was a no-go, Johnson began seeking professions he believed would give him stable hours and keep him away from the doctor’s office — like jobs on Wall Street.
He was already working part-time as a clerk for Morgan Stanley, but in 2005 he became a financial analyst, re-reading contracts for Lehman Brothers.
His time in the financial sector came to an end in 2008, just before the company filed for bankruptcy, but he enjoyed it, he said.
“I always had a deep interest in business,” Johnson said. “It’s always interesting to me how you could start off with a small investment and end up with a large return. It’s really ‘the sky is the limit.’”
Next he landed a job delivering various newspapers for several months in Westchester and then after that he began working in security.
While working as a bouncer at a Korean nightclub last year, he was given a unique opportunity to compete in a traditional Korean Ssireum wrestling tournament.
One day the club owner asked Johnson if he was interested, to which Johnson replied “Yeah, you only live once.”
“I realize that for me basketball is a tool,” Johnson said about his worldly adventures and various jobs. “You can do whatever you want in life. There are no limitations.”
During his time away from professional basketball Johnson played part-time for the entertainment basketball group, Harlem MagicMasters, and now he wants to do it full-time.
“Entertainment basketball is something a guy like me could do for the rest of his life,” he said. “We make a lot of kids happy. It’s very emotionally rewarding.”
The basketball group also thinks that Johnson will help convince kids to focus on positive thoughts.
“If people like [Johnson] come into the gym and they talk to the kids and tell them do not attempt to use any type of drugs or alcohol, don’t bully or tease your fellow classmates, then the lessons resonate,” said Jay Bryant, Vice President of the Harlem MagicMasters.
Johnson enjoys traveling up and down the east coast and sometimes the mid-west with his teammates, spreading their message to kids, but also personally motivating them with his own life.
“I’ve always wanted to help motivate and help other people,” he said. “I realize that even though I’m not an NBA basketball player I could still promote what we do — and do it well.”