John Rogers likes to say that beating Michael Jordan one-on-one was not his greatest basketball accomplishment.
“That was an individual effort,” Rogers said. “That was obviously very exciting, very memorable. But I have to say my highlight of my basketball life was making the team at Princeton.”
He played for Pete Carril four decades ago. But in the next year, Rogers could see the fruit borne of three decades of labor. He is the godfather of U.S. three-on-three basketball (or 3×3, as it is labeled internationally).
The half-court discipline debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. team that won the world championship earlier this summer traces its roots to Rogers’ Hoop It Up teams from the 1990s.
Rogers is already planning to go to Tokyo.
“That would be way, way up there,” he said. “It would be such a proud, extraordinary moment for all of us affiliated with Princeton basketball. If we could get Coach Carril over there, that would be great.”
Rogers is the “founding father” of Team Princeton 3×3, said Craig Moore, a former Northwestern guard brought into the fold by Rogers several years ago.
“Sponsor, advisor, coach,” said former Purdue honorable mention All-America Robbie Hummel, who joined the program a year ago and earned MVP at worlds (more on Hummel’s story here). “For him to care about 3×3 is a little mind-boggling.”
Rogers, 61, has enough to keep him occupied with his day job. He couldn’t watch his players at the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs this spring because it conflicted with Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway meeting.
“I was monitoring it,” Rogers said of nationals, where two four-man squads made up of Team Princeton players met in the final.
Those two teams were named Ariel NYAC and Ariel Slow & Steady as a tribute to Rogers, who stepped away from playing in 3×3 tournaments as he got into his 40s and 50s.
Rogers is the chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, long billed as the largest minority-owned investment firm. The company’s symbol has been a tortoise for its 36 years.
“It reminds people that … us older, slower guys are beating the faster and younger,” Rogers said.
Which is just what happened in Las Vegas in August 2003 at Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School. The camp, attended by affluent businessmen in the early 2000s, had a registration fee of $15,000.
The Wall Street Journal posted video in 2008 of a glasses-wearing Rogers driving and scoring on Jordan, winning 3-2 in a game of make-it, take-it after Jordan’s last season with the Washington Wizards. The result caused spectator and actor Damon Wayans to tell Jordan in front of the campers, “How do you feel about getting humiliated?” by a man five years older.
Rogers had previously been profiled as the $8 billion money manager who collected teddy bears and ate one meal a day at McDonald’s. But while rising the business ranks, he also put to use what he learned at Princeton on the blacktops of his native Chicago.
Rogers, who started seven games in three varsity seasons for Carril’s teams from 1977-80, joined fellow former Tigers Craig Robinson and Kit Mueller to form the core of a 3×3 team that won three “Shoot the Bull” tournaments against fields of some 2,000 teams two decades ago.
Robinson, the older brother of Michelle Obama, went on to become a head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Mueller finished his tenure as Princeton’s No. 2 career points scorer behind former U.S. Senator and 2000 presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Arne Duncan, a former Harvard player and later the U.S. Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, was also part of the group when it expanded beyond Princeton. Rogers is known to have been part of Obama’s pickup basketball crew, too.
Rogers said they became one of the best teams in the country playing the Hoop It Up 3×3 tour by using Carril’s motion-predicated Princeton offense. In 3×3, a basket from beyond the arc is worth two points. All others are worth one point. Games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21.
“Pete Carril would always say — and he was very ahead of his time — that he wanted you to get layups and three-pointers,” said Moore, who never played for Carril but sat in the front row with him for a Brooklyn Nets game and has had dinner with him 15 or 20 times. “We’re going for the highest value for the highest percentage shot as well. Defensively, we’re trying to do the exact opposite: the most risky shot with the least percentage of going in.”
Carril, who coached Princeton from 1967-96, including a first-round upset of defending champion UCLA in his last NCAA Tournament, turned 89 last month. Rogers and Moore noted that Carril’s emphasis on finding tall players who can dribble, pass and shoot translates to the quick-thinking 3×3 game.
“The way that we are all taught to cut and face the court is perfect,” for 3×3, Rogers said. “Coach Carril is proud of his legacy moving on in a new way.”
There are no on-court coaches allowed in international 3×3 basketball. If Rogers’ players are chosen to make up the U.S. Olympic team next year — and it’s trending that way — he may have to watch games with the crowd at the outdoor venue in Tokyo.
Moore said that as Rogers underwent knee and elbow surgeries, he ceded playing responsibilities to fresher legs like Moore and Hummel. Other players in the current program include Princeton alums and past Ariel interns.
Rogers took on a combination role of coach, general manager and sponsor, helping fund the team to travel internationally and accumulate FIBA rankings points. Moore said Rogers handed him a “carte blanche” role in 2016 to identify and bring in players, such as Hummel last year. But Rogers streams games and offers feedback by phone afterwards.
“I’m sort of a helpful set of eyes and ears,” Rogers said. “I kind of played that role as I got too old to play myself. I’m on the board of directors at Nike now. It’s cool to tell our friends there how good our 3×3 team is going to be next year.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nzaccardi