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Former NBA all-star ‘KJ’ taking notes of SLC innovations

The point-guard-turned-Sacramento-mayor comparing notes with SLC mayor

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SALT LAKE CITY — After an all-star career in the NBA, point-guard-turned-Sacramento-mayor Kevin Johnson is an old pro at dolling out assists.

Johnson, who played 12 seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Phoenix Suns, during which he had more than 6,700 career assists, offered up another to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker Wednesday during a visit to the Sorenson Unity Center.

"You know who this is, right? This is the mayor of Salt Lake," Johnson told a small group of students from Riley Elementary School.

“Shake Mayor Becker’s hand before you guys leave so you can say you met the mayor."

Turning to Johnson, Becker replied: "This is the mayor of Sacramento and not as importantly, he was an all-time great basketball player, who almost single-handedly beat the Utah Jazz."

“Almost, almost,” Johnson said, softly laughing.

Johnson is in Utah for a two-day visit, which included visits to the Unity Center, the Glendale-Mountainview Community Learning Center campus and the Salt Lake City Innovations Early College High School.

The mayors were also scheduled to attend the Utah Jazz-Sacramento Kings game at Energy Solutions Arena Wednesday night.

"I got my notes here. I’m going to take notes and beg and borrow and steal some of the good things that are happening," said Johnson, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Johnson's first impressions of the Sorenson Unity Center appeared to be positive. He and Becker watched a dance performance by a group of Riley Elementary School students and visited the center's Intel Computer Clubhouse.

"This is unbelievable. Glendale is one of the most diverse parts of Salt Lake City and for the community to have the opportunity to get technology and arts, some of the things that don’t typically happen in our school day, it’s awesome for the young people. You can see the diversity here. That’s one of the things that really stood out. A lot of times people don’t associate diversity and Salt Lake City. I’m seeing it firsthand in this community," Johnson said.

Becker said Johnson's visit was an opportunity for him to get the perspective of a mayor who also leads a capital city regarding Salt Lake's services, innovations and partnerships underway in Salt Lake City.

"We're going to spend some time comparing notes what we’re doing and what we can learn from each other. We call it a healthy competition. We compete on the basketball courts and we compete sort of as cities, who is doing more to help our cities get ahead or catch up, as the case may be, with what the communities are doing," said Becker, who is president of the National League of Cities.

As for 10-year-old Ashley Vilchez, a fourth-grader at Riley Elementary School, the visit by the two mayors was "awesome."

"I really wanted to meet the mayor (Becker) a lot. It was nice to meet him (Johnson), too. He's nice. It's awesome he played basketball. I like basketball, too."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com