Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Special to ZAGSBLOGNEW YORK — Larry Johnson, author of one the great moments in Knicks history with his four-point play against the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, sat on the dais inside the Madison Square Garden press conference room on Sunday morning and was very engaging. At the same time, you could see the nervousness and anxiety on his face.
“Y’all see me sweating up here,” Johnson, who became famous for his “Grandmama” commercials during his days with the Charlotte Hornets, said before the Knicks tipped against the Chicago Bulls on Easter Sunday.
The light, yet tense eight minutes with the media were understandable as Johnson embarks on his new role with the Knicks as a Basketball & Business Operations Representative. In layman’s terms, Johnson will be working in player development, community relations and even learning the ropes of the front office under assistant general manager Allan Houston, who was of course Johnson’s teammate on that 1999 squad that became the first 8-seed to advance to the NBA Finals.
The job opportunity, which Johnson hopes to learn from and hopefully turn into a front office role in some capacity one day, came after a conversation with James Dolan. Putting it mildly, Cablevision’s Chairman of the Board is not well-liked by a lot of people, but Johnson does not fall into that category.
“It was me approaching Jim, maybe a month ago, letting him know I had interest in coming back and helping out,” Johnson said. “Jim and I have grown with each other and he’s like a friend. He and I are real close. I know former players or whoever would say some things, but that’s not my opinion of this man. Once I approached him, he was ecstatic and real hyped about bringing me back.”
While the exact role and precisely what Johnson will be doing wasn’t totally clear on Sunday, player development is a place where he can certainly help given his credentials. Johnson, a two-time All-American at UNLV, averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds over 10 NBA seasons for the Knicks and Charlotte Hornets, who made him the No. 1 overall pick in 1991 NBA Draft. He retired prematurely before the 2001-02 with chronic back problems.
Speaking of back problems, Amar’e Stoudemire has been dealing with a bulging disc in his lower back in recent weeks and what better guy for Stoudemire to get advice from not only in the basketball department, but unfortunately the health department as well.
“I would like to talk to Amar’e and just get his symptoms. No question, everybody knows my problems I had with my back, which is the main reason I retired,” Johnson said. “Amare’s body type is different than mine. I had to keep the weight off. Amar’e is a thin and tall guy, so I would just love to sit and talk with him and get his symptoms and get what he’s going through.”
As for similarities between the current Knicks and Johnson’s 1999 team that got on a run at the right time and shocked the NBA that spring? Despite the Knicks’ tenuous playoff position entering Sunday, just like the ’99 Knicks had late in the regular season, he says there really are
none except for the fact both squads are trying to squeeze a lot of games into a short window thanks to the lockouts.
“We did 50 games, these guys are doing 66 games in a short period of time and it’s back-to-back-to-back. It takes you back to high school,” Johnson said. “They don’t have high school bodies, so I’m pretty sure everybody is banged up. Mentally, everybody is a little frustrated, but every team goes through it. You just have to suck it up and go through it.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.