Today there was news of a former UNLV player auctioning their 1990 Championship ring on Ebay. The player has yet to be named, and it is doubtful that it is Larry Johnson but the mention of his name brought back a lot of memories for someone who grew up in Charlotte. I can still smell the aroma of nachos and popcorn in the Charlotte Coliseum.
LJ was the first round pick of the Hornets in 1991 and was the catalyst for their run of success in the 1990s. The next year the Hornets picked Alonzo Mourning second which created one of the best tandems of the decade in the NBA and in NBA Jam. Johnson won Rookie of the Year and became the Hornets' first All-Star in 1993.
The Hornets, who were known for their tremendous home crowds and at the time trendy teal and purple colors, became one of the more popular teams in the league. In 1993 the Hornets made the playoffs and faced the Celtics, the old guard. In a series that marked a true contrast of teams, and the unfortunate end of Reggie Lewis's career(rest assured Johnny Newman is still guarding him), the Hornets pulled out the series with a Alonzo Mourning winner with .4 seconds left in game 4.
So many epic things in that video, the least of which was the Hornet dancers, the Honeybees, running out to join the midcourt celebration or Alan Bristow's hair. Charlotte fell to the New York Knicks in the next series.
The next year the Hornets won 50 games in 1994-95 and faced the Jordan-No.45 edition Bulls in the first round. The 3-1 series defeat was the end of the Hornets as we knew them. LJ signed the most lucrative contract in the league at the time, a 12-year, $84 million contract. This contract was only part of the schism that developed between LJ and Alonzo and Hornets management. Mourning wanted to be the big dog and the Hornets refused to pay him like one; he was traded to the Miami Heat after the 1995 season for Glenn Rice and Matt Geiger. Johnson soon developed back problems and never recovered his former explosive form. In 1996 he was traded to the Knicks for Anthony Mason and the juggernaut that was Brad LoHaus. In two years the Hornets rose up as the Young Guns of the NBA but egos, money, and a bad back tore it all down.
LJ became a fan favorite on the Knicks but never was able to put up his All-Star numbers. He got in a tiff with Bill Walton, hit a memorable 4-pointer, and even settled some unfinished business with Alonzo in the playoffs.
LJ retired in 2001 but in the minds of Charlotte Hornets fans he will always be remembered for his time in the Queen City and his Grandma Ma persona. Johnson has been mostly absent from the public eye but he will never be forgotten by Hornets fans, or fans of Urkel.