Joe Kleine played basketball at a level very few people will ever play. The 7 foot tall center from Slater Missouri was a winner at every level, from high school, to college, the Olympics, and the NBA. As sportswriter Jon Goode once wrote, Kleine was never a star, but what made Kleine great was that he accepted his role and was ready to play every night. Sometimes a large part of being a legend, is making everyone else around you better. That's exactly what made Joe Kleine the kind of teammate every player wants to have.
Kleine's first season at Arkansas, he helped the Razorbacks to a 26-4 record, finish second in the Southwest Conference (SWC), and make the second round the NCAA Tournament. His junior season, Kleine helped Arkansas to a record of 25-7, another second place finish in the SWC, and a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament. The biggest victory of the season came on February 12, 1984 at the Convention Center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, when Kleine helped the Razorbacks upset the #1 ranked North Carolina Tarheels, led by Michael Jordan, thanks to a basket by teammate Charles Balentine at the end of the game. It is considered one of the greatest victory's in Razorback basketball history. Kleine finished that game with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Kleine was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the sixth pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. Kleine went on to have a fifteen-year NBA career, playing with the Kings as well as the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Portland Trail Blazers. Kleine played on teams with legendary NBA players Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. He won an NBA championship in 1998, as a center, for a Chicago Bulls team that included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Steve Kerr.
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[00:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly biography show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Carrie McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:34] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. After four decades of running a small business called Arkansas Flag and Banner, now simply flagandbanner.com, my team and I decided to create a platform for not just me, but other business owners and successful people to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way. Originally, we thought we'd be teaching others, but it didn't take long before we realized that we were the persons learning. Listening to our guest has been both educational and inspiring.
Before I introduce you to today's guest, I want to let you know, if you miss any part of today's show, want to hear it again or share it, there's a way. And son, Gray, will tell you how.
[00:01:12] GM: All UIYB past and present interviews are available at Up in Your business with Kerry McCoy's YouTube channel, Facebook page, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s digital version, flagandbanner.com’s website, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just ask your smart speaker to play Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. And by subscribing to our YouTube channel or flagandbanner.com’s email list, you will receive prior notification of that day's guest. Back to you, Kerry.
[00:01:38] KM: My guest today, a Razorback and NBA pro basketball player, is such an original that even Microsoft's Software, Word, wants to autocorrect his name. Mr. Joe Kleine, K-L-E-I-N-E.
Growing up in slighter Missouri, this giant of a man was recruited in 1982 by coach Eddie Sutton to come to the small town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and play for the Razorbacks. As Coach Lou Holtz so famously said about his tenure in Fayetteville, “It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.”
It is on the hill, as we Arkansans lovingly call it, that the seven-foot center, number 35, began his momentous career and met the love of his life, Dana. In 1984, while still in college, and before professionals were allowed to compete, Joe played on the US Olympics team, where they won a gold medal in men's basketball.
Professionally, Kleine has 15 seasons in the NBA. First drafted by the Sacramento Kings. Traded to the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and in 1998, alongside Michael Jordan, and Arkansas native Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, he won a national championship ring.
In Joe's illustrious career, he competed in 965 games for seven franchises with 204 starts, 50 of which were playoff games with 11 starts. Today, Smokey Joe throws his large frame and weight around as the owner of two Corkys barbecue restaurants in Central Arkansas. It is with great pleasure and admiration that I welcome to the table, the winning athlete with too many awards to mention, the lucky hardworking gentleman, Mr. Joe Kleine.
[00:03:32] JK: Thank you. That was a lot.
[00:03:35] KM: All true?
[00:03:36] JK: Yeah, we'll go with that.
[00:03:39] KM: You humbly call yourself lucky. You say that. That's why I've put it in the script. Because you say, “I've just been lucky.” That's what all humble people say. But I know that luck is often a result of hard work. And that is what all your teammates say about you. So, what's your motivation?
[00:03:56] JK: We were raised to work. I mean, to earn, you got out of things what you put into it. And we weren't allowed to sit around. I mean, in the summertime, we worked. And we just were always playing ball, or swimming, or working on a farm.
[00:04:17] KM: So, you were born in Colorado, Springs.
[00:04:19] JK: Right. But early on, we moved everywhere.
[00:04:22] KM: Was your dad in the Air Force?
[00:04:23] JK: No. No. He just was a salesman. Now, he was a Marine in World War II. I mean, he got a Purple Heart. He got injured really bad on Saipan and almost didn't make it. We have a big love for patriotism and things of that nature. Because again, that's how we were raised. And it wasn't thrown in our face. But we were just – His saying all the time was God, family, country. And that's what's on his grave.
[00:04:58] KM: Who’s we? Brothers?
[00:05:00] JK: Three brothers. Yep.
[00:05:03] KM: Are you a fourth brother?
[00:05:04] JK: I'm the third. Yeah, Mike, who we lost a couple of years ago, he was the oldest. And then there's Peter, myself and John.
[00:05:13] KM: All seven-feet tall now?
[00:05:14] JK: No. Mike and John are 6”6’. Pete, he's only six two.
[00:05:24] KM: So, is your mom tall?
[00:05:26] JK: No, not really.
[00:05:27] KM: Is your dad tall?
[00:05:28] JK: My dad 6”8’. Yeah, everybody on my dad's side of the family. My grandpa was 6”8’, 6”9’.
[00:05:34] KM: Did you have a custom kitchen with counters made?
[00:05:36] KM: Oh, no. Are you kidding me? Slater, Missouri? There weren’t a lot of custom going on in Slater, Missouri.
[00:05:44] KM: Is your wife tall?
[00:05:45] JK: She's about 5”8’.
[00:05:46] KM: Yeah. That’s pretty tall. I’m 5”6’. That’s pretty tall. She puts hills on? She’s good.
[00:05:52] JK: Yeah. No. But she’s tall for a lady.
[00:05:56] KM: I think that's very, very true. That's right. Your family all played basketball?
[00:06:02] JK: We really were into sports. I mean – Yeah, Peter wasn't as much. He was the one older than me. I mean, although he was a terrific athlete, he was more artsy in the music and drawing. Very good artist. And he never took to it.
[00:06:18] KM: Did you always know you were tall? Or did one day you go, “Oh, wow! I'm tall.”
[00:06:21] JK: No. I knew. I mean, I was always the tallest in my class.
[00:06:28] KM: How tall were you in sixth grade?
[00:06:29] JK: No. I was the tallest. I think 10th grade year, somewhere in there, I went from, “Man, you're tall.” to “Good, Lord. You're tall.”
[00:06:40] KM: Did you always play basketball? Or did you come later?
[00:06:42] JK: Yeah. No, I always played. I was always playing.
[00:06:48] KM: So, when getting ready, I've watched a lot of your highlights getting ready for the show. I've seen a lot of your shots and your passes. But I haven't seen very much dribbling. Do you dribble very well? Tall guys sometimes have a problem with that.
[00:06:57] JK: Well. No, I mean, I could dribble. I could – But like –
[00:07:02] KM: Did they let you bring the ball down ever?
[00:07:04] JK: Oh, no. Never. Because – No. Because, I mean, that wasn't the way – That's not the way it was back then. I mean, you had your kind of position. If you are taller, you went inside and – Right. And that's kind of how the game was played back then.
[00:07:19] KM: Yeah. You were first recruited to play for Notre Dame.
[00:07:23] JK: Yep. With that for a year. Loved it.
[00:07:25] KM: You did?
[00:07:26] JK: Yeah. Still love it. Still love it.
[00:07:28] KM: How did you come to play for Arkansas then with Eddie Sutton in a small town? Fayetteville was small back then.
[00:07:33] JK: I loved Eddie Sutton. I mean, I didn't know anything about Arkansas except from him. And then there was a – They were just coming into their own with the triplets. And they were kind of getting notoriety. And they'd always had notoriety in football. So, you knew they had a good fan base and stuff down there. And then he started recruiting me and I just –
[00:07:59] KM: And the triplets were Moncrief?
[00:08:01] JK: Brew and Delph, yeah.
[00:08:03] KM: And so, I didn't realize that they already had a legacy going like that. And you were –
[00:08:07] JK: Right. No, they had it going. He coached. Got it going. I mean, they were a prominent –
[00:08:13] KM: You fell in love with Sutton when he came to visit you?
[00:08:17] JK: Yeah, I did. He was the first coach to come to my house. Back then, it was really different. You couldn't visit a player face to face until after their junior year in high school. So, the day after my junior year was over, Sutton came up with his staff and had an in-home visit with me. And I just –
[00:08:41] KM: But I thought you said you only – Maybe it's freshman, sophomore, junior. So, you played one year or two years with –
[00:08:47] JK: One year at Notre Dame. Then I transferred. I had to sit out a year. I went to Notre Dame in the ’80, ‘81 year. And then I transferred after the ‘81 season. I sit out the ’81-‘82 season
[00:09:02] KM: They don't have to do that anymore.
[00:09:04] JK: Not anymore. No.
[00:09:05] KM: I mean, they got portals now. That just move you all around.
[00:09:06] JK: Yeah, yeah. They're technically supposed to, kind of. No. But all you have to do anymore is threaten a lawsuit, and the NCAA goes away. Really, you don't hear of anybody haven't sit out –
[00:09:21] KM: You could even go into the pros till you'd graduated college back in your day, could you?
[00:09:25] JK: You could but nobody did it.
[00:09:26] KM: I didn't think you could. I didn't think it was really even allowed.
[00:09:29] JK: No, you could. You got.
[00:09:30] KM: You could? I know that Pat Bradley and David Basil are both our friends. And I know this is a question if you were interviewed by those two guys. They would never ask. But I've got to ask because this is a chick interview.
[00:09:44] JK: Should I brace myself or what? I'm looking over, you’re looking nervous. And so, I’m nervous.
[00:09:50] KM: He’s always nervous. All My Children are nervous when I get on the radio. Or get on stage, they're always nervous. But talk about meeting your wife Dana at the Razorbacks.
[00:10:01] JK: She followed me around, and I finally gave in. I gave her an autograph. No.
[00:10:05] GM: Oh my God!
[00:10:09] KM: I think that's kind of true. She kind of said that.
[00:10:11] JK: No. No. Not like that. She did not say that. I can promise you that.
[00:10:17] KM: Was it love at first sight?
[00:10:21] JK: Man, I don't know. I mean, I liked her. I mean, I knew that. I mean, I wanted to go out with her again. I mean, I don't think I knew what love was. I mean, I wouldn't say it was love from an ignorance point. From my standpoint, that probably should have been love.
[00:10:39] KM: Those dumb athletes. You know, they're dense up there. How did y'all meet?
[00:10:44] JK: Carla Hilburn, Tommy Hilburn, who's my partner in Corkys. corgis? I knew Carla before I knew Tommy. And Carla was dear friends with Scott Hastings, who was my roommate. When I first got there, he was on the basketball team. And I got to know her through Scott. And Scott's girlfriend then at the time, Judy, was Carla's best friend. I just kind of was rooming with Scott. Got to know Carla. And then I remember one day I just was looking at Carla and I was like, “Man, yeah, Help a brother out, man. You got all the women run around the Chi Omega house. I mean, help a dude out, man.” But, no. We went out. And Dana and Carla were roommates at the time. And so, they set me up. We went on a blind date.
[00:11:33] KM: That's great. The rest is history. You and Michael Jordan have a very long history that started even in college. In fact, this game that you played with Michael Jordan in Pine Bluff may be is often considered one of the greatest victories in the Razorback basketball history. Talk about that game where the Razorbacks beat North Carolina Tar Heels.
[00:11:58] JK: Yeah. We were trying to keep pace with Houston. Houston had [inaudible 00:12:03]. They were an incredible team. And we were in a conference race with them, one game behind them. And so – SWC. Southwest Conference.
[00:12:13] KM: Yeah. Southwest Conference them.
[00:12:15] JK: And so, we had two games that week. We had to go to Texas A&M and then play at SMU. Both teams were very, very good. We knew we had to win both of those games. And then back then, they always had a Sunday national game on NBC. And so, they scheduled our game with North Carolina on that Sunday.
So, we went Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. And we didn't even really talk about North Carolina. But we escaped it. A real close game. And College Station won that. And then Saturday afternoon, played SMU, and played a great game and beat them on their home floor. And then we were going to hop a plane and go to Little Rock and then Pine Bluff the next day. And we couldn't get out because there were tornadoes.
We spent the night in Dallas. Because Coach Joe just said, “We're going back to the hotel. We're not going to sit here in this airport and not know.” And so, we went back. And the next morning, we got up early and had breakfast. Put our uniforms on in Dallas. Got dressed, and taped, and warm ups, and everything. Got on our charter and flew to Pine Bluff and walked in, put our bags down and –
[00:13:34] KM: Start playing.
[00:13:35] JK: Played North Carolina.
[00:13:36] KM: On national TV.
[00:13:37] JK: Yeah, number one team in the country.
[00:13:39] KM: Against Michael Jordan.
[00:13:39] JK: Yeah. They were undefeated and number one. And I think that helped us because we then spent all week watching film going – I mean, we didn't even talk about them till Saturday night. We didn't even – Because those weren't the games we had to win. We're trying to stay up with Houston.
[00:13:58] KM: Which is the other game in I think in the same year that you played Hakeem –
[00:14:07] JK: Olajuwon.
[00:14:08] KM: Yeah, thanks for saying that. From Houston. And it's called – These two games are in the same year. And it's called one of the most memorable games in Arkansas. One of the greatest victories. And they were one of the most memorable games. So, talk about that game. This guy – In fact, you got nicknamed the nightmare after that.
[00:14:26] JK: Yeah. That was that
[inaudible 00:14:28] back – God rest his soul. We were walking into Houston to play them the first time. And that game was on TV too. Or, yeah, I believe that was right. And he was like, “It’s Hakeem the dream. We have to do this thing before the game.” Joe, that, we want to do a boxing. Kind of tale of the tape thing. And I was kind of like – I’m 20 years old. I'm kind of like, “Yes, sir. Yeah. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” And he’s like, “We got The Dream. We need a nickname for you. What's your nickname?” I said, “I don't have a – Joe.” People call me Joe. And he goes, “Well, how about if I call you Nightmare? Would that bother you?” And I was like, “No.” I mean, I wasn't going to tell him.
[00:15:13] GM: Yeah. Yes, sir. Yeah.
[00:15:14] JK: And everybody in Arkansas hated that. After that game, they had a huge contest to find me a nickname.
[00:15:22] KM: What do you come out to be?
[00:15:23] JK: Smoking Joe from
[00:15:24] KM: Oh! Smoking Joe. There you go. And then you open the barbecue business. Yeah. All right, that's a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Arkansas Razorback legend Mr. Joe Kleine. Still to come, Joe's 15-year NBA career. Playing with legends like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and more. And last life in the slow lane. Moving back to Arkansas and starting Corkys barbecue. What's he doing now? We'll be right back.
[00:15:55] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago, with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry's experience and leadership knowledge. In 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. And more recently opened a satellite office in Miami, Florida. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.
[00:16:35] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. And I'm speaking today with the NBA retired basketballer, Mr. Joe Kleine, and owner of Corkys Barbecue Restaurant in Central Arkansas.
[00:16:49] JK: That's a German name. You know how it's pronounced?
[00:16:50] KM: How?
[00:16:51] JK: Kleiner. Do you know what Kleiner means in German?
[00:16:54] KM: Tall.
[00:16:56] GM: Little.
[00:16:56] JK: Small.
[00:16:58] KM: Oh my God!
[00:17:01] JK: I got on an elevator in Houston and I heard them speaking German. And I said, “Do you want to guess my name?” And then they were like, “Big. Tall.” And I pulled up my driver's license and showed it to them and they thought it was the funniest thing ever.
[00:17:15] KM: I do. In 1985, Joe, you graduated and you're watching the NBA Draft, I guess. Where are you when you heard the news? And describe it.
[00:17:26] JK: No. I was there. No. I was there. They flew us all to New York.
[00:17:29] KM: You were picked six in the first round to go to Sacramento Kings. What did you think?
[00:17:35] JK: I thought I was going to California? Well, Sacramento is not California. Like, you think of it. When you think of California, you think of beaches, and LA, and San Francisco. I mean, Sacramento was a farming community in San Joaquin Valley. And just a great town. Loved it. It's actually a perfect fit for me because of the type of town it was. It was a very blue collar, smaller town. And I just really loved living there. It was a great fit. The team was awful, but it was a great place to live.
[00:18:17] KM: What does Dana think now? You're leaving?
[00:18:21] JK: We didn't really know. I mean, when I got drafted, we weren't even engaged. I mean, I was going to – Later that summer –
[00:18:28] KM: Probably didn't take you long to decide to get engaged.
[00:18:30] JK: No. No. We got engaged in August, I believe. And then she went off and was a flight attendant for a little while.
[00:18:38] KM: Oh, really?
[00:18:38] JK: Yeah. And flew for American Airlines. Really loved it. And then we got married the following summer after my rookie year in 1986. And then she kind of did flight attendant stuff till she got pregnant.
[00:18:53] KM: The NBA has changed so much and when you played. I don't think people realize it. But prior to probably the LA Lakers and Magic Johnson era, maybe around that time, it was not –
[00:19:07] JK: It was dying.
[00:19:09] KM: Yes.
[00:19:09] JK: And before Bird and Magic, when they got drafted, they kind of saved the NBA.
[00:19:15] KM: Did you watch The Winning? The –
[00:19:18] JK: No, I didn't. I haven't watched that. I've seen bits and pieces. I mean, what's funny about that is it's a docu-drama.
[00:19:28] KM: It’s not completely. It tells you right on.
[00:19:29] JK: Yeah. And everybody is like, “They make Jerry West look bad. It’s so bad. Jerry West –” And I was like, first of all, this is not a documentary. I mean, they're making J. West look bad to add flavor to the –
[00:19:44] GM: You need an antagonist. Yeah.
[00:19:46] JK: Basil one wants me to –
[00:19:49] KM: It’s not that good. It's okay. But it's not that good. I got to tell you what's good. The Last Dance. Were you in The Last Dance?
[00:19:57] JK: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:19:59] KM: Oh, I got to go watch it again. That, I just loved it. How accurate was it?
[00:20:05] JK: Very.
[00:20:07] KM: For our listeners, The Winning is a docu-drama on, I guess, Netflix?
[00:20:12] JK: Yeah, yeah.
[00:20:13] KM: And it's all about the Lakers and Magic. And it's a docu-drama. And it says right there on the top, “Not exactly accurate.” Because my husband would say, “He was like that?” I said, “Honey, it's a movie.” He’s be like, “Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting.” And then The Last Dance is a real documentary.
[00:20:30] JK: It was very well done. I mean, I was very skeptical. But when they came to interview me, I didn't really know what was going on. This guy kept emailing me and calling me, kind of like you did.
[00:20:45] GM: You’re welcome.
[00:20:47] JK: I’m kidding. I’m kidding.
[00:20:48] KM: No. He’s not.
[00:20:50] JK: And I was thinking it’s going to be like Steve Solomon pulling up and dropping the tripod and putting a mic on me in 15 minutes. And they showed up at Corkys. And there was like five dudes. And I was like kind of looking at them. And they had a lighting guy. And they had a sound guy. And they had a – And so, finally I looked at them, I said, “Okay, what is this?” Because I was like –
[00:21:15] KM: Who did do it? I can't remember. Who produced it? I can't remember.
[00:21:17] JK: I can’t remember. But they were like, “This is a 10-part k of –” They said it’s 30 for 30, but not 30 for 30. It's a drama on the last season of the Bulls. And it's a 10-part. And I was kind of like, “Oh, okay.”
[00:21:30] GM: We call it a docu-series. Yeah.
[00:21:32] KM: Man, it was good.
[00:21:33] JK: Yeah. And they started asking me questions and a lot of stuff they were asking me. In my mind, I'm going like, “How do you know that?”
[00:21:42] GM: Who you’ve been talking to you?
[00:21:44] KM: They had done their research.
[00:21:45] JK: Oh, yeah. They did a great job.
[00:21:49] KM: So, in ’92 – I'm going to tell our listeners, we kind of touched on it. You went up to Sacramento. And you had been used to winning – As we just talked about, you've been winning as a Razorback, and having some of the best games the Razorback’s ever had. And now you go out there to Sacramento. First round pick. You think you're winning the NBA. But your team is no good.
[00:22:13] JK: Well, our first year, we had a pretty good year. But we started off really poorly. And then, like, from January 1st to the end of the year, we had like the third best record in the league. I mean, we really kind of started clicking.
[00:22:26] KM: That was the first year?
[00:22:28] JK: Yep. And we made the playoffs. We lost a Houston in a five-game series. And then that summer, they traded everybody. And it was –
[00:22:37] KM: Why?
[00:22:39] JK: Great question. And what we got back, we traded three guys to get one guy. And the one guy we got back, he wasn't a franchise-type player, which was what they thought he was going to be. And so, just playing terrible. Doing bad. Fire the coach. Hire a coach. Fire a coach. Hire a coach. I think I had four coaches in three and a half years and have probably 40 different teammates. It was –
[00:23:11] KM: Oh. You were happy when the Boston Celtics – When they traded you.
[00:23:14] JK: I mean, I wasn't happy. I like Sacramento. It was a great town. And you just kind of wanted to make it work. You felt like you got – But it wasn't going to work there.
[00:23:24] KM: Was that the year your son was born?
[00:23:25] JK: My son was born the same half hour I got traded.
[00:23:28] GM: Whoa.
[00:23:31] JK: I was in the labor room very early in the morning. Daniel is coming. And a nurse walks in and pops her head in there and goes, “You have a very, very urgent phone call that you have to take. It's from Jerry Reynolds, who's a coach of the Kings.” And I was like –
[00:23:46] GM: Does he know where I am right now?
[00:23:49] JK: And then walked back in. And Daniel was born. And 36 hours later, I was like, “See y’all later.”
[00:24:01] KM: Oh, my gosh. Is your wife just so understanding?
[00:24:03] JK: She was still in the hospital. She came home without me. I had to go. Yeah, it was a great day, but it was a crappy day, too.
[00:24:12] KM: So, was he born in California, I guess?
[00:24:13] JK: Yeah, Sacramento.
[00:24:14] KM: Is that when they decided to do the Olympics?
[00:24:17] JK: What had happened with the Olympics is that we always dominated. We always dominated. Well, basketball is growing internationally. And now, all of a sudden you have these players coming over, Marshall
[inaudible 00:24:33], Arvydas Sabonis, Toni KukoÄÂÂ. These guys coming from other countries and playing for pro teams. People started become more familiar with these pro players and started gaining respect. They were great NBA players.
Well, now, suddenly go – Or take our band of college players over there and we play against a team full of pros. And it had always been like that. But now, people recognized. Before, you didn't know who they weren't because they didn't play in the NBA. They were never over here. So, you were like, “Yeah, Fernando Martin,” who played for Spain for years, who was a great player. Nobody in United States had a clue who that guy is. Oscar Schmidt who played for Brazil. Unbelievable player. Nobody knew who he was. But now you got DraÅ¾en PetroviÄ‡, Toni KukoÄÂÂ. And he plays for the Nets. He plays for the Blazers. He play – And so, they drum us. And now all of a sudden, everybody's like, “Well, that's not fair.”
[00:25:40] KM: The Olympics was always amateurs playing, right?
[00:25:43] JK: So in ‘88, we won the bronze and got beat by – Unbelievable. It's Lithuania. Or the Soviet Union. I can't remember. But they were full of – Pros that people knew were pros. And so, that kind of – Everybody was like, “Well, we're not going to let this happen anymore.”
[00:26:02] KM: But that was very controversial to go from amateurs to pros in the Olympics, because the United States had always kind of had a –
[00:26:10] JK: Well, no. If they would have won the goal that year, it wouldn't have never happened. We got beat. And we got our feelings hurt. And we thought we were being cheated. And so, we were like, “Okay. We're going to take our pros over there.” Let's say who
[00:26:24] JK: Yeah. The good ol’ American way.
[00:26:26] KM: Who was it in the Dream Team?
[00:26:27] JK: In ’92, that was – Oh my! That was Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson.
[00:26:45] KM: So eventually, you stayed with the Boston Celtics and had a great
[00:26:49] JK: Yeah, for almost five years. Yeah.
[00:26:52] KM: And then you – This kills me. You go to the Phoenix Suns, and you stayed there three years. You stayed everywhere about three years. Three to five years. And then you –
[00:27:02] JK: But towards the end, I started hopping around like a used car salesman. I was going everywhere. I was having a cup of coffee everywhere.
[00:27:12] KM: Well, you probably wish you had gone ahead and retired.
[00:27:16] JK: I mean, I wasn't tired of the game. I was kind of tired of moving – Because, I mean, except for when I got traded to New Jersey, which was in the middle of the – The year was about 10 weeks away from being over. New Jersey wasn't going to make the playoffs. And when I got traded to the Lakers, right before I got traded to New Jersey, from Phoenix, it's just the kids were in school and just – They had to stay there. I mean, there was no way around that.
And so, I think – And then after New Jersey is when I went to the Bulls. And we all went up there together. And that was a great year. And had a lot of fun. That was a good city. And then came back. And the Bulls wanted me to stay another year. But Michael we're gone. And I wasn't going to – I didn't want to deal with that. And so, came back and that we had – That's when we had an NBA strike for about half a year. And I ended up playing for Phoenix for like a half a year.
And then my last year, I thought I was going to stay in Phoenix. They said they wanted me to stay. And I kept waiting around for him. And Portland called me. And I was like, “Alright, I'm done.” Went to Portland and had a great time up there. Just another great city. And the kids and everybody went up there and go in school.
But at that point, I was in my 15th year and just – That’s a young man's game. And just getting warmed up for practice, getting stretched out, trying to stay loose on the bench. Everything, just as you age, everything gets hard. And I just couldn't play anymore. I couldn't play like I wanted to play. And teams wanted me to stick around and basically be a babysitter. When I retired, I had teams want me to come back. And we'd already moved here. And my kids were in school. And I was like, “I'm done, guys. I’m done.” But I knew the role I would play. And I wasn't quite ready to just kind of sit on the bench and get a check and babysit everybody.
[00:29:42] KM: Yeah, right. Playing past your prime kind of hurts your averages.
[00:29:49] JK: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
[00:29:50] JK: I mean, I would play – Like, when they needed me, I'd play four or five games in a row and have 15 points a game, 10 points a game. And then when a guy got healthy again, I was –
[00:30:04] KM: That was your kind of MO.
[00:30:05] JK: That was my role. And guys who stick around the NBA, they figure out what their role is. And they figured out, “You know what? This is a really good job. This is a really good, really well-paying job.”
[00:30:22] KM: Except you have to move a lot of time.
[00:30:23] JK: Yeah. But you got to be able to do a lot of good things for your family. And so, the smart ones figure out everybody wants to be NBA All Star. Everybody goes to the NBA thinking, “I'm going to be the next list. And next that.” Well, everybody can't do that. And so, you better find your niche. It's like in any job, anything. You better find what you're good at and what keep you sticking around and getting paid for as long as you can. And the smart ones do that.
[00:30:57] KM: So, you were lucky enough to spend a year with the Chicago Bulls and play the year that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen played their last year. What the whole movie The Last Dance is about. You are part of that year. Tell us how exciting that had to be.
[00:31:21] JK: I'd been wearing some really good players now. I'd been in the locker room with Larry, Kevin, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Paris, Dennis Johnson, Charles Barkley, Bam Marley. Yeah, A.C. Green, Shaq, Kobe, Jason Kidd. I mean, I've been with some dudes now. But that was like the Beatles. I mean, it was ridiculous. I mean, it was like traveling with the Beatles. It was –
[00:31:55] GM: Oh, their star quality?
[00:31:56] JK: Yeah. Everywhere we went. Didn't matter what time we pulled up to the hotel. Sometimes it was two or three in the morning in Milwaukee in January before 500 people out there and just so they could watch Michael walk in.
[00:32:09] KM: But you didn't know that they were having – When you went there, you didn't know they were having trouble with –
[00:32:13] JK: You know, I didn't. I thought it was like, “Man, this is going to be –” You got in there real quick. There was a lot of animosity.
[00:32:20] KM: Between the owner and Phil Jackson, the coach.
[00:32:24] JK: Jerry Krause, who was the general manager. But Jerry Krause basically did what the owner told him to do. I mean, the owner –
[00:32:29] KM: Yeah. And why was the owner – Why were they so irritable? They have this great winning team?
[00:32:36] JK: Well, what it always comes down to, money. When Michael and Scottie signed contracts, the NBA pay was going nuts year to year. These guys signed four, five-year contracts. Well, their contracts after one year were obsolete for what they did. I mean, they were two of the best players in the league. And they were paid around 50th.
[00:33:03] KM: Are you kidding me?
[00:33:04] JK: Yeah. And the Bulls would not renegotiate. The Bulls would not redo it. They said, “You signed this. We're not –” And so, that just started the animosity. But it was there. Like, the tension was – I mean, it was real.
[00:33:19] KM: Well, everybody needs to go watch The Last Dance. It's good. All right, this a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with former Razorback center and retired NBA player, Mr. Joe Kleine. Still to come, a game with Joe, because he likes games. We're going to play a fun word association game. We'll be right back.
[00:33:38] JK: Yikes.
[00:33:39] ANNOUNCER: Recently, you may have noticed around town that American flags have flown at half-staff a lot of days. You may be one of those folks who's driving around and you see that display and you wonder, “What's happened? Why is that flag at half staffed?”
Well, if you go to flagandbanner.com and click around on all the various things that the website offers, one of the things it does offer is for you to get half-staff alerts in your email. It not only answers questions you may have as you're driving around town, but it allows you to fly the American flag properly. Flagandbanner.com, there's so many items on that website, instructional, informational, curiosities. I suggest you go and sign up. Flagandbetter.com. It's free.
[00:34:26] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. And I'm speaking today with the seven-foot tall, Mr. Joe Kleine, owner of Corkys Barbecue. Former Razorback center and retired NBA baller with an impressive 15-year career having played 965 games for seven franchises with 204 starts, and owner of the much-coveted National Championship Ring.
You shared the cord with some of the legends, Larry Bird, who I think is a friend of yours, Charles Barkley, who I think's a friend of yours, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman. And you didn't play with Magic Johnson. But you played against him. So, you knew him. I like games. You like games. So, this is the game. Here's the scared. This a one word. You have to give me one word for each player when I tell it to you. Larry Bird.
[00:35:25] JK: Country.
[00:35:26] KM: Country?
[00:35:27] GM: It’s not that.
[00:35:31] JK: He’s like me.
[00:35:31] KM: That's why you like each other so much. Charles Barkley?
[00:35:35] JK: Genuine.
[00:35:37] KM: Really? He is. Funny and genuine.
[00:35:42] JK: Yeah. I have one word, I wanted to say funny, but I couldn't.
[00:35:45] KM: That’s what I thought that you'd say. Kobe Bryant?
[00:35:49] JK: Young. When I knew him, he was – When I was around him, he was 17. He was a pup.
[00:35:58] KM: Shaq? Don’t say it.
[00:35:59] JK: Again, I'm trying – One word. No. I mean. Surprising.
[00:36:05] KM: Surprising?
[00:36:05] JK: He surprised me when I played with him, because I thought he was going to be a real diva kind of. And he was just the opposite. He was really – He was a good dude.
[00:36:14] KM: Oh, he was big. I bet you two guys squaring off on each other.
[00:36:17] JK: I mean, I know I'm big. Nothing like him. It was surreal to be around him and play against him. There's nothing you could do.
[00:36:30] KM: Nothing you could do.
[00:36:31] JK: I mean, you’re at his mercy.
[00:36:33] KM: Mm-hmm. Michael Jordan?
[00:36:36] JK: GOAT. Greatest of all time.
[00:36:39] KM: Oh, yeah, for sure. Oh, yeah. Scottie Pippen?
[00:36:44] JK: Arkansas.
[00:36:46] KM: Dennis Rodman?
[00:36:49] JK: Crazy. I was trying to think of a nicer word than crazy. But he was harmless. Harmless. Harmless. Harmless. But the phrase, that guy walks to the beat of his own drum. That is 100% made for Dennis Rodman.
[00:37:05] GM: I love that.
[00:37:06] KM: Magic Johnson?
[00:37:09] JK: Great.
[00:37:10] KM: He is?
[00:37:11] JK: Yes. I think he's the most underrated player ever to play in the NBA.
[00:37:16] KM: You do?
[00:37:16] JK: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:17] KM: You know, it's probably because he's so friendly and likeable and stuff that –
[00:37:21] JK: I mean, he went to the NBA Finals I want to say eight out of 10 years in a row. It may not be that much. But I mean, he won five NBA championships. I mean, his resume and what he did is right up there with Michael's.
[00:37:38] KM: Okay, this is a coach. Phil Jackson.
[00:37:41] JK: Zen.
[00:37:41] KM: Zen.
[00:37:44] JK: We were always doing yoga. And he was burning sage. Have you ever smelled sage?
[00:37:51] GM: Yeah. That's hilarious.
[00:37:53] JK: Smells like marijuana. And he was – My first game with the bulls, he walked through the locker room with sage.
[00:38:04] GM: I’ll sage the locker room.
[00:38:06] JK: And I was sitting there and he had just walked through there when I got in there. And Steve Kerr and all these guys were there. They were kind of like watching me. And I mean, I was sitting there and I was like, “Somebody's in here smoking marijuana.” I said, “This is – What the hell's going on here now?” And I was like looking around, going back into the shower, and they were all kind of chuckling. I was like, “Fellas, you don't smell that?” “What are you talking about, Joe?” And I was like, “Somebody’s in here smoking marijuana.” And then right then and there, Phil comes walking through the locker room again with sage that it gets from south.
[00:38:42] KM: It’s he getting rid of demons and stuff?
[00:38:42] JK: Yeah, bad spirits.
[00:38:43] KM: Bad spirits. Oh, I love that. Who would ever thought that? How about coach Eddie Sutton from the Razorbacks from your youth?
[00:38:49] JK: Father.
[00:38:50] KM: Oh, nice. And I got to ask you, because we did not talk about this. But Bobby Knight was the coach when you played in the Olympics and you won a gold medal. Bobby Knight. Give me a word for him.
[00:39:01] JK: Intense.
[00:39:03] KM: Oh! This is what I think I when I think of Bobby Knight. This is when I first start playing basketball. He threw a chair. I was watching that game when he threw that chair across there. And I was like, “Okay, I'm watching from now on out.” He's crazy. Did you go when he was in Little Rock and he came to talk to parents and children?
[00:39:21] JK: I wasn't here. No. I heard about it, though.
[00:39:23] KM: Cussed like a damn sailor. Everybody was like, “Well, that was real inspiring for the children and their parents.”
[00:39:31] JK: Yeah. I guess Wally Hall wrote kind of an article about him that day. And then he chastised Wally in that same speech. I always chuckle when I sit around Wally and I are having a beer or something. I was like, “Man, Bobby Knight was such a good guy. Starts it going right there.”
[00:39:56] KM: Alright, that was fun. Let's take our last break, and then we'll come back and wind the show up. When we come back, we're going to talk about Joe being the ESPN commentator. Working – Are you still doing any UALR work?
[00:40:09] JK: No. No. No.
[00:40:10] KM: He was coaching for UALR here in Little Rock for a little while. And then last about entrepreneurial Joe. Life as the owner of Corkys barbecue in Central Arkansas. We'll be right back.
[00:40:21] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. When you listen to the program every week, you probably think you've gotten to know a little bit about Kerry's personality. But if you really want to know what she's like, check out her blog posts at flagandbanner.com. They're archived from way back and her thoughts on recent developments around the country in her life and at flagandbanner.com are represented there too. The bannerisms blog posts at flagandbanner.com.
[00:40:49] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mr. Joe Kleine, owner of Corkys Barbecue, former Razorback center, and the retired NBA baller. Now, it's the end of your career. You've retired. What did you and Dana think you we're going to come do? And why did you pick Little Rock when you're from Missouri?
[00:41:09] JK: When we first got married, we got married in Dallas. She was from Dallas. And this is in ’86. Back early on, we were like, “We're coming back to Dallas. What a cool city.” And then Dallas just kept getting bigger and bigger. And we'd go back to see our parents. And when I got traded to Boston and Sacramento, we had a house in Sacramento, and we went up to Boston and looked around for a little bit, and we couldn't. The difference in the markets was – We had $350,000. We thought we were going to get us a mansion. They were showing us apartments.
And so, we kind of said, “You know, what –” And we weren't going to – I mean, we liked Boston. But we weren't going to live there. Because all our family and everybody was back this way. We said, “You know what, let's go to Little Rock for the summer.” And we came back here. We bought a house. And just kind of have a base. We wanted to have a base. And just really enjoyed it, and liked it.
And so, our kids were really young. So, they weren't in school yet. So, we didn't have to be back in Boston till October when practice started. So, our summers were longer. And so, we would just come back here in summer and just kind of got entrenched into the community a little bit. And then in 1996, we sold our house here when we went to Phoenix because our kids were gone at school. And housing was much more affordable there. We got a nice house there. And so, from ‘92 to about 2000, we had a house in Phoenix. Or ’93. But we started Corkys in ‘96. And so, it was –
[00:43:13] KM: When did you retire?
[00:43:14] JK: 2000.
[00:43:16] KM: So, you started Corkys before you retired? I had no idea.
[00:43:20] JK: And so, when we retired, it was kind of like – We like it there. And I had a lot of opportunities to go into NBA coaching. But I know that lifestyle. And it's just like you're going to be somewhere two years. And you're going to be somewhere to years. You’re hired to be fired. And so, that didn't really appeal to me at that time. And so, we had Corkys and it was like I will come back here and start working there and figure it out.
[00:43:56] KM: Corkys is a franchise from Memphis.
[00:43:58] JK: Out of Memphis. Yes.
[00:43:59] KM: Did you know that guy before? Or how'd you pick Corkys?
[00:44:01] JK: I never heard of Corkys.
[00:44:02] KM: How'd you pick it?
[00:44:03] JK: Tommy. Tommy. My friend, Tommy. Because Carla – He started Backyard Burgers here. And then Backyard Burgers went corporate. And so, they bought him out. And so, he really did well with it. And so, he wanted to do something else. And so, he went over and looked at Corkys. And we found the pizza land out there in West Little Rock. And he approached me about it. And I knew it would be successful because I knew him. I had never heard of Corkys in my life.
[00:44:38] KM: Well, the food is great.
[00:44:40] JK: I didn't know – When he said Corkys, I didn't know what the heck he was talking about. I was like, “What are you talking –”
[00:44:46] KM: It’s my favorite barbecue in the city.
[00:44:48] JK: Well, thank you. And I just kind of went from there.
[00:44:53] KM: You like the franchise model? Business model?
[00:44:57] JK: I like our franchise model because – I chuckle when they say we're a franchise, because –
[00:45:02] KM: You don't feel like it?
[00:45:04] JK: No. We're a mom and pop. I mean, we're putting out like you’ve seen me today.
[00:45:09] KM: Oh, I see you there all the time. If you go in there, you're in there.
[00:45:12] JK: We're a franchise, I think, by name only.
[00:45:14] KM: Yeah. I interviewed a banker one time and asked him if you were going to get into a business, what kind of a business you should get into? And he said, “Franchises.” He said, “They're great. They're great business models.” Of course, you got to get in a good one like you've got. You've got the perfect one that fits you.
[00:45:27] JK: It really helped us, I think, especially when we – The early years. Because there was – I didn't recognize it. But I wasn't living here all the time. So we had that instant – People in Little Rock had been to Corkys in Memphis. And so, it kind of gave us a little –
[00:45:46] KM: Name recognition.
[00:45:47] JK: Yeah, exactly. You seem a lot – What do you think your business theory is?
[00:45:53] JK: I believe, if you're going to be a good boss, especially in our business, you can't just sit back in the office and point and say, “You need to do this.” You have to show – You have to work. I mean, there's nothing in Corkys I haven't done. Nothing. I mean, I’ve done the bathrooms. I’ve cleaned the grease trap. I’ve cleaned – I mean, there's been spills on the back dock that are absolutely gross. And guess who's doing it?
And so, I mean, I think you have to show that so that it's like – My thing is like, “Look, people have their jobs and things that they're accountable for.” And you have to show that you're not just saying, “You do this.” That you do it, too. And I think that's a good way to lead. I don't want to do it all the time, because that's what I'm paying you for. No job is beneath me. And I think that sets a very good – When you show that, I think it sets a very good tone to everybody that works for you.
[00:47:03] KM: I agree. Because when you come out to your business, or when you call your business, or when you go to your website, visit your website, there is pride. In everybody you talk to on the phone, there is pride. In everybody that waits on you at the table. The website is up to date. Looks good. You can tell that y'all are hands on. I think it really does reflect all the way out from what you just said all the way out to the patrons. I think they see that very, very well. What do you think about Eric? Coach Eric Musselman?
[00:47:33] JK: Love it.
[00:47:33] KM: Don't you love him?
[00:47:35] JK: I think it was just a tremendous – It was a great hire. He's a guy that is a basketball junkie. He’s basketball 24/7. His hobby is probably basketball. I mean, he's constantly recruiting. He’s constantly –
[00:47:52] KM: And I think his wife likes it.
[00:47:55] JK: And websites and funny things. I mean, he says very – He’s very in touch with the youth of today. That’s how you get them. Instagram, Tik Tok. I mean, he's out there seeing them and talking to them and making offers to kids when they're sophomores in high school.
[00:48:15] KM: I'm always – Of all football and basketball, I like college, because I'm shocked at these young adults. Not even adults hardly. That are on the national stage making big decisions with so much pressure. How do those kids deal with that?
[00:48:35] JK: Yeah. I mean, I had to do it, but it wasn't like –
[00:48:38] KM: How do you deal with it? Were you just naïve?
[00:48:41] JK: No. I remember. I mean, it was difficult, because you're having to talk to people like Norm Stewart, the head of Missouri, Joby Hall, the head coach at Kentucky. You're having to tell them no. And my dad was an old school guy. He’s like, “You’re going to talk to them, and you're going to tell them. You’re going to be respectful to them. And I'm not going to tell him. The coach is not going to tell him. You're going to be a man about this. And you're going to call him up and you're going to tell him, “Hey, I am going to Notre Dame.”
[00:49:15] KM: But then when you get ready to go out and play, and you're going to be on TV that day, how do you get the Kahunas to get out there and just give it it's all in front of so many people?
[00:49:23] JK: I think it's kind of a gradual. As you're growing up in high school, you just kind of gradually morph into that. So you start and you play in front of a thousand people in high school, or a packed little gym, and that's a big deal. And then you go to the state playoffs. And then you go to college. And that's kind of a minute where it's like, “Whoa! This is –” And then you're on TV. And then it just kind of kind of evolves. And then after you do it for a little while, you're just playing ball. And you just go on out there and it's like – You're able to kind of – I was able to kind of just – You were aware of the crowd. You're aware of the enormity of the game. Or you're aware that it was on TV, but you just –
[00:50:13] KM: Did the crowd ever share? They always act like – Sometimes you'll see players do like this. You know, get the crowd into it. Does that help?
[00:50:20] JK: Oh, yeah. No, playing at home is huge, because you have encouragement.
[00:50:28] KM: When you're on the road, and there's nobody could encouraging you –
[00:50:30] JK: No. But that is also fun, because it's just you and the guys. You're standing in a tunnel before you go out. And you know you're going to get booed and everything. And it's just you guys all huddled up and you kind of like – It’s the ultimate us against the world feeling. You know, let's go do this. That's the thing that you miss more than anything.
[00:50:52] KM: You still stay in touch with anybody?
[00:50:53] JK: Oh, yeah.
[00:50:56] KM: Are you still doing ESPN commentary much?
[00:50:59] JK: Yeah. This is – Everybody ask me all the time. And I go – This is how I answer. I'm on a year to year contract. And that's fine. I mean, and I started off – The whole thing started off when Jimmy Dykes call me one day. It was Mike Anderson's last game and Bud Walton Arena. And it was against Alabama. And the guy doing the color couldn't get him and they couldn't – They were like, “Do you know anybody that can do this game?” And Fayetteville and Jimmy was gone. He wasn't in Fayetteville.
And so, he called me that morning. He was like, “Hey, what are you doing?” I was like, “I’m going to Corkys. What do you think I'm doing?” And he's like, “Hey, ESPN needs you to get in the car and drive up. And you're going to be up. Do the ESPN game at three o'clock against Alabama.” I did that game. And that was great. And then I did 16 last year.
And so, since all this has been going on, we have all that in-home studios. And so, I tell everybody, I said, “Are you going to do it next year?” And I said, “Well, they have not asked for their equipment back. So, I think I am. We don't have a contract. But they haven't asked for anything back.” I mean, I assume –
[00:52:14] KM: Do you like it?
[00:52:15] JK: I do. It keeps you around the game.
[00:52:18] KM: Yeah. It's so fun. You had such a great career. I brought your desk set. It's the US flag, the Arkansas flag, the Missouri flag, and the Colorado flag where you were born. I should have brought you a Notre Dame Indiana flag.
All right. Thanks again.
[00:52:32] JK: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it very much.
[00:52:34] KM: In closing, to our listeners, I want to say thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's very inspiring or enlightening. And that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[00:52:53] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show, or any show, email me, Gray, that's firstname.lastname@example.org.
All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you'd like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.