Prospective players for the Salem Capitals scrimmage during a training camp at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Kevin Johnson’s professional basketball career has been far-flung -- it took him across the world, from Turkey to Poland to Taiwan. But it’s not over. 

Next month, Johnson, 37, will play in the first-ever game for Oregon’s new minor league basketball team when the Salem Capitals kick off their long-awaited first season on March 4. Johnson, who’s also been tapped to serve as a team captain, said he feels “blessed to have the opportunity.” 

“I didn’t plan to play far past high school,” he said. “I got lucky, and blessed, and worked hard.”

He’s one of 10 players who made it through a training camp last week for the newly minted Salem Capitals. According to Jason Conrad, the team’s owner, it’s a diverse group.

“This league is definitely for the guys who want their last hurrah, the guys who are making a comeback and the guys who are jump-starting their careers,” Conrad said.

When the Capitals finally tip off, it will have been a long time coming. The team was originally supposed to hold their inaugural season in 2021 as part of The Basketball League, a minor league organization that started in 2018. Covid regulations forced the team to wait until 2022.

“It ended up being a blessing in disguise,” Conrad said.

Jason Conrad, right, team owner, gives advice to Vincent Baumann, of Woodburn, during a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The later start offered the team the opportunity to upgrade its home, the Salem Armory, with a new floor. It also gave Conrad - a former professional player himself -more time to perfect the team’s marketing and website. His ideas for new team merch include fake nose rings for fans, so they can match the bull in the team’s logo.

“As of three weeks ago, I’ve finally been able to get in front of people to talk about it,” Conrad said. “I’m 7 feet tall and tattooed. Me in front of you in person and me behind a computer is definitely a different experience.”

The last year saw another major change in the budding team’s leadership. When the idea for a minor league basketball team in Salem was first coming together, Conrad had been working with its owner, Paul DuBose, as the general manager and business developer.

Four months ago, Dubose moved away and offered Conrad the opportunity to buy him out. Conrad is now the sole owner. 

“If I’m going to spend my life savings on something, it may as well be something I love and enjoy doing. So that’s how I ended up buying a basketball franchise,” Conrad said.

Prospective players for the Salem Capitals scrimmage during a training camp at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

He wants there to be something for everyone who attends games at the Salem Armory, which can hold around 2,700 people. The capacity includes 2,000 general admission seats, as well as VIP floor seating. The stage area will transform into a 21-and-over pub on game day and feature a full bar.

The Capitals are the 42nd team to join the league, and the fifth in the West Conference.

For players like Johnson, the team represents the chance to keep playing a sport they love alongside up-and-coming players. But it also offers the opportunity to bring Salem together for fun and affordable entertainment - a true community production.

After games, players will stay on the floor and interact with their fans. According to Johnson, the focus on community interaction is a major part of the draw.

“I grew up in the Bay Area, originally grew up in Oakland, and started playing organized basketball originally with the Oakland Boys and Girls Club,” Johnson said. “Without the Boys and Girls Club and things like that, I probably wouldn’t have made it out.”

As team captain, his goals for the inaugural season are simple: Show up for Salem, and compete in every single matchup.

“I think we have a pretty talented team. I think we’ll be able to compete. It’s one thing to look a certain way on paper, it’s another thing to get out there,” Johnson said. “The goals for this year should be to be competitive with every team that we play, and be able to communicate with the community.”

The Capitals will play their first game March 4 against the Vancouver Volcanoes at The Salem Armory, located at 2310 17th St. NE. Tickets cost between $5 and $10 and are available for presale at salemcapitalsbasketball.com.

Head coach Brian Stevens speaks with players during a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Prospective player Montiga Alford gets a high five after being subbed out of a scrimmage during a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Assistant coach Cody Brock works with players during a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Teams huddle up during a time out as they scrimmage during a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Head coach Brian Stevens talks with prospective players during a scrimmage at a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Prospective players for the Salem Capitals scrimmage during a training camp at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Prospective players put their hands up before taking the court during a scrimmage at a training camp for the Salem Capitals basketball team at the Salem Armory on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter's news team: [email protected]

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!