Larry Johnson and Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald are each NYC hoops legends. But their paths to earning that status were, like, very different.
Tiny is a Bronx native; LJ hails from Tyler, TX. Tiny was a local streetball star who developed into one of the greatest point guards in NBA history; LJ is an all-time Knick—his wild three-plus-the-harm against Indiana remains that New York era’s lasting moment. Tiny was a second-rounder back in 1970; LJ was the top pick in the ’91 Draft.
So it made some sense that they were chosen as local rivals (of sorts) to support MLS Heineken Rivalry Week. What made slightly less sense was watching them kick around a soccer-ish ball while strapped into a life-sized foosball court/field/structure in midtown Manhattan on Thursday morning, though seeing the two go head-to-head in any capacity made for a good if admittedly confusing time.
After the game (Tiny’s squad blew out Johnson’s, who had LJ at goal), they both sat down with SLAM to talk about the education and talent of NBA players, past and present. (Also: Space Jam.)
SLAM: LJ, you just gave up 9 goals in like 5 minutes. What happened out there? Take me through it.
Larry Johnson: [Laughs] You know what, I was a little shocked out there. The ball was coming out fast. I didn’t have my boundaries down, I didn’t know what side to go to. I think if I had a second game I’d do a little better. I got it down now.
Tiny Archibald: I’m having fun. I don’t know what I did. I had a good cast of guys, and they knew what they were supposed to do. They helped me along. I didn’t wanna do what Larry did, ‘cause that ball comes back too hard. I wanted to be kicking it and moving.
SLAM: A true point guard.
TA: I don’t know about point guard. I didn’t get any assists going the other way, but I just try to help out, man. It was fun.
SLAM: The Knicks and Nets are both coming off terrible seasons. Is there a legit rivalry there?
LJ: It’s always a rivalry, whether one team is better than the other, or both teams are playing like crap—it doesn’t matter. It’ll still be a rivalry because it’s New York.
SLAM: What did you think of Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie year?
LJ: He had a heck of a year. Not knowing a lot coming in, and you could tell the reception he got when he was drafted in New York wasn’t pleasant—he came in and worked hard. This is New York, everybody can’t play in New York.
SLAM: What about Melo?
LJ: I’ve always been a big Melo fan. It’s not easy coming home to play. Melo has ties to New York. So once he came back, it was gonna be a lot of expectation playing here. He’s done a heck of a job standing up to the pressure. Melo could tell you that his time isn’t what he wanted it to be because he hasn’t won a Championship. But I think we’re on the right track.
SLAM: Tiny, how have you stayed involved with NYC basketball?
TA: We do clinics. We’re still involved with camps. We visit schools. We talk about life skills. The game is good, but how long can you play this game? I tell kids about higher education all the time. A lot of kids will be leaving school early. I hope and pray they get their college degree.
SLAM: Larry, you stayed in school a few years. What are the benefits to that?
LJ: To me, the advantage is your education, number one. You’re that much closer to getting your degree. Like Tiny was saying, a basketball career is a short career, so what are we doing after that? A prime example as far as basketball is Dwyane Wade. D-Wade stayed four years in college, and when he came out, he was ready to play the game. You got a guy who comes out after one year, he can get discouraged if he doesn’t pan out to be what people expected him to be. He’s 19 years old. You get a lot of money to play in the NBA. It’s a lot of pressure.
SLAM: A 19-year-old, Ben Simmons, is probably about to be the first pick…
LJ: Now he gotta go to Philly and play on a team that won, what, 15 or 17 games? That’s a lot pressure on a young man.
TA: That’s a lot of pressure. Then you’re talking about a season that’s a lot longer than your college season, and they was in the SEC and didn’t really fare that well. He had an OK season, but he’ll get drafted on potential. I don’t know if he’ll be an All-Star—hopefully, he will. But you know when I look at him and like Larry said, the younger guys that are coming out—the difference between when we played and now is that the NBA has a program where these kids can go back to school for free. And the NBA is gonna pay for that because they know there’s a void in those guys’ lives when you talk about education. Kobe’s done it. Kobe was at NYU taking business courses, Kobe was out at UCLA taking courses because he knew that sooner or later, that beautiful run that he had was gonna be over.
SLAM: Have you guys been watching the Playoffs?
SLAM: Thoughts on Curry?
TA: I’m not a scout, and I’m not a recruiter. But I watched him at Davidson, and Larry knows this, ‘cause Larry played with his dad: If you look at the family tree, they could always shoot the ball!
LJ: Mm, right! Always!
TA: When Stephen first came in the League, guys were spotting him up. Now he’s creative enough—he’s a multidimensional player. He passes a lot better, he sees a lot better, he can get anywhere he wants. His ball-handling skills got a lot better, plus, like Larry’s team, you’re playing with guys that are passing the ball. If you watched [Game 2], he wasn’t hot in the beginning, but them guys still moved the ball. Next thing you know, defense gets lax or defense gets tired, Boom! Too late! Boom! Then he has that rhythm and next thing you know, he’s too hot for you to stop. I make this comparison: The difference between the Warriors and San Antonio, is San Antonio had old horses.
LJ: Old who?
TA: Old. Horses. Golden State got ponies. Somebody said, Well what’s the difference? Well, shit man. I’m not part of Preakness or the Kentucky Derby, but if you gonna put an old horse in a sprint against a racehorse, they ain’t gonna win. OKC got ponies too, they just ain’t got enough of them.
SLAM: Do you remember Steph hanging around the Hornets?
LJ: Absolutely. He wanna come shoot every day, just like Tiny said. You come to the gym, and he and his little brother are running around playing horse, shooting. Man, Get out the gym, we got practice!
SLAM: If it’s Cavs-Warriors again, who do you like?
LJ: That’s nephew (Curry), but, Cleveland woulda got them last year if Kyrie played. I’m a fan of Kyrie. I think he can step up whenever he wants to. That guy’s a player. With him and LeBron, they’re gonna be hard to handle. I got Cleveland.
TA: LeBron to me is a beast. Larry could tell you. Golden State’s gonna be like, I gotta guard him? Somebody’s gonna have migraines. LeBron tried to do it last year, but without Kyrie—they tried to have the best player playing by himself, and a team beat him. Now they got Love back, they got guys who will hopefully get over this hurdle. I’m not saying who will win, but for the fans that are in Cleveland, it would be a milestone.
LJ: It would.
TA: If you look at Cleveland basketball… Baseball…
SLAM: Larry, you were on the cover of the first-ever SLAM Mag. Do you have a copy somewhere?
LJ: I do. It’s not here in New York—my mom got everything at home in Texas. You got on me about that. [Looks at Tiny] These guys was hot on me about that. They put me on the cover of the first SLAM ever. But I was hurt in Charlotte. So I was on the cover, but I wasn’t playing. And the editor or whoever was coming to the press conference was like, “When are you gonna be playing, we got you on the cover!” I just can’t jump back on the floor ‘cause I’m on the cover of your magazine now. I remember that.
SLAM: They’re doing a Space Jam remake. Have you been contacted about making an appearance?
LJ: They have not contacted me. But if they would, the answer is yes. I had so much fun doing the first one.
SLAM: Think LeBron can carry the Space Jam torch?
LJ: I don’t think so. He can’t do it himself. He gonna need some OG star-power.
Photos via Getty Images