Larry Johnson Q + A
Catching up with the man on our first cover.
by David Cassilo/ @dcassilo
Larry Johnson will always hold a place in SLAM’s heart. Johnson was the first player to ever grace the cover of SLAM back when our current cover athletes were in grammar school.
Knicks fans share a similar feeling due to his famous four-point play, and on Thursday he was back in the area at Packer Shoe’s in Teaneck, NJ, to promote Fila’s re-release of the FX-100 shoe with a special “4-Point Play Pack.” A big crowd of his many supporters turned out to meet the former Knick.
While he was there Johnson talked about the event, told the real story behind becoming “Grandmama,” and reflected on what it means to him now to be the first to ever grace SLAM’s cover.
SLAM: How’d you first get involved with Fila?
Larry Johnson: I was with Fila my first year with the Knicks after I had a bit of a falling out with Converse. It was professional. Then I wore the shoe here today while I was with New York. The people at Fila were first class and they treated me great.
SLAM: They’ve tied in the four-point play too, right?
LJ: It was my biggest play in New York. I can’t get by without anybody asking about it.
SLAM: Why do you think that play has become so iconic?
LJ: Because it happened in New York, and it happened against Indiana and Reggie Miller in the Playoffs. In the Playoffs, at that point, you only have four teams going, so everybody is just watching those four teams.
SLAM: What else have you been up to since you retired?
LJ: I have seven children, four boys, so that’s a whole lot. I mess around with them a lot. I went back to UNLV in 2007 to get my degree in communications. I mess around with the team every now and then and show them some post moves, and I hang with my sons. I also have this bottled water company. We do spring water, an energy drink called Hydro Power and a sweat tea. So I’ve been keeping busy.
SLAM: Do more people remember you for that four-point play or being Grandmama?
LJ: There are women 40, 50 and 60 years old who don’t know anything about basketball, and I tell them I played Grandmama, and they go, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.” So I would say Grandmama.
SLAM: What do you remember from doing that commercial?
LJ: When I signed with Converse out of college, they told me we were going to do a commercial with me, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They said they would have me on a gurney sleeping and covered up so you don’t see me. Larry Bird was on one side and Magic Johnson was on the other. They were doctors. They were creating the best basketball player. So then they say we have to name it. Larry Bird was going to say, “His name should be Larry,” and Magic was going to say, “His name should be Johnson.” Then they would go back and forth saying “Larry” and “Johnson.” Then I would raise up. So then I signed with them. Then they come back two months later after I spent the money and bought my mom a house, and they say, “We’ve got another idea. We want to put you in a dress.” That was Grandmama. [Laughs]
SLAM: So, what you’re saying is that wasn’t exactly by choice?
LJ: I spent the money so I had to do it, but if they came to be right out college and said, “We want you to do Grandmama,” I would have never done it. [Laughs]
SLAM: And then what do you remember from bringing it back for Family Matters?
LJ: You know Jaleel [White] can really play. He’s tall, but he just fell into that Urkel role.
SLAM: As I’m sure you know, you were on our first cover. What do you remember about that?
LJ: When I got on the magazine cover, I was hurt. You guys had the magazine out with me on the cover for about three months, and I wasn’t even playing. I did a press conference on when I was going to come back, and you guys held up the magazine, and the first question you asked was, “We got you on the cover of our magazine, when are you coming back?” I was a little offended because I was hurt. I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. If you’re on the cover of the magazine, they want you playing. I was a little offended, and I would like to apologize.
SLAM: Do you think some pride in having that distinction of being on the first cover?
LJ: I take a lot of pride in that. I have it laminated and everything. I didn’t know SLAM would be like this back then.