larry johnson

Originally published in SLAM 133

Ever since he was a kid growing up in Tyler, TX, Larry Johnson had a dream. He wanted to be on the cover of a basketball magazine. And, more than that, he wanted to be on that magazine’s first cover.

By the time he stormed his way through Odessa College, then UNLV, and joined the Charlotte Hornets as the first overall pick in 1991, the L was overflowing with superstars. Michael Jordan had won his first title, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon were still in their primes. This wouldn’t be easy.

But a dream was a dream. LJ got his razor-cut center part, polished up his gold tooth and went to work. He’d do anything to stand out. Enter the Dunk Contest as a rookie? Sure thing! He came in second to Cedric Ceballos, but looked right doing it. Dress up like an old lady for Converse commercials? Why not? That they’d remember.

His second season was another step forward. Voted an All-Star starter, he shared a locker room with Jordan, who by then had won his second championship. And if LJ happened to tell Mike that dumping the NBA for professional baseball was a good idea, what of it? After all, a dream was a dream.

Russ Bengtson