It turns out former Knicks forward Larry Johnson and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z have two things in common. One is their age (42). They're also both involved with sponsoring Duracell Powermat, which was just named the official wireless charging partner of MSG, and the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty. The electronics company will be placing wireless charging systems around the arena for fans to charge their phones, so they won't have to miss any of the action.
On Wednesday, Johnson was promoting MSG's new partnership at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which he calls his "second home" after playing college ball there at UNLV. Before "Grandmama" had to head to an autograph session, I spoke with him about the venture and, of course, the then and now Knicks. Johnson likes where the current team is heading, but he thinks they can make a move, maybe even two. And that's where we start.
Zwerling: What are your thoughts on the Knicks so far?
Johnson: They made some great moves. I can't wait to see them come back. If they can stay healthy with the shortened season, I think we'll be in the hunt in the Eastern Conference.
Zwerling: Do you think the team is missing any pieces to win a title?
Johnson: Of course, I think we can use a little bit more talent at shooting guard -- getting a nicer shooting guard or a penetrating point guard. I like what we've got now, but you can always use a couple more pieces, especially when you're trying to compete with Miami and those guys.
Zwerling: How impressed have you been with Iman Shumpert?
Johnson: I haven't really seen him too much, but I hear he's doing pretty good.
Zwerling: Did you play with any rookies who were able to step right in like him?
Johnson: Well, when I was there we had a couple. John Wallace was a heck of an addition to us. It took him a while, but John did great. He really stepped up. He had a great year at Syracuse that year before. He was from New York, too. I thought John came in and did an excellent job.
Zwerling: You played with a pretty formidable frontline alongside Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing. Now, 10 years later, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Are there any similarities you see?
Johnson: Well, not really. I think we were bulkier down low than those guys. Those guys are faster and what not.
Zwerling: Is there a player in the NBA who reminds you of yourself?
Johnson: Well, it's hard to say. I was like the undersized power forward. You have a couple, like my man over in San Antonio, DeJuan Blair. I think he was compared a couple times to me. He actually might be a little bit stronger and a little bit bulkier than me down low. I was shooting the three. But I see a little bit of similarities right there, or Elton Brand in Philly.
Zwerling: By the way, have you been to the renovated Garden yet?
Johnson: You know what? I went back several times last year and I was looking at models, but I haven't been back since they really got started.
Zwerling: Looking back on that shortened season in 1999, how did you prepare for the schedule? Did you approach it differently than previous ones?
Johnson: Well, it just changed for everybody. I thought Jeff [Van Gundy] was very critical with the coaches, making sure of things. We had a veteran team. I thought Jeff did a good job with keeping us healthy and keeping us excited for games, and not over-pushing us and just trying to getting it all out in once. In that shortened season, from the jump you've got to be ready.
Zwerling: Did the transition feel easier for you guys because you weren't a new team coming in? This season's Knicks have eight new players.
Johnson: Yeah. We had maybe more of a veteran team with Patrick, myself, Oakley and those guys. I think we were just more aware of what was going on. We really knew what to do at that point. We didn't have too many rookies during that shortened season. Like I said, the coaching staff did a great job, too.
Zwerling: Have you gotten a chance to talk to your former teammate Mark Jackson, who's now a first-time coach with the Warriors?
Johnson: Mark's a great coach, a great guy. He's really a student of the game. I haven't had the opportunity to talk to him since he really took the job, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to run into him soon.
Zwerling: So, are you still getting some shots up here and there? You play in Vegas a little bit, right?
Johnson: Man, I'm back a little bit sometimes. If I do anything, I step out there as a dad and show my boys some things. But even I can't even mess with them anymore. I can't really say I get them up.
Zwerling: Speaking of why you're in Vegas, are you a big gadgets guy?
Johnson: I'm getting into it. I've got three sons and they're all, "Do this, do that, do this." So I get a little tired of asking them for help, and they get a little tired of trying to help me.
Zwerling: What's your favorite electronic right now?
Johnson: Absolutely that iPhone. I need it. I've got to have it. I don't have a favorite app -- just everything.
Zwerling: You've got to be pretty excited about UNLV, starting 16-2 and leading the Mountain West.
Johnson: I've been in and out of Vegas, so I haven't been able to watch them so far. I'm trying to take care of business flying back and forth.
Zwerling: Besides your work with Duracell Powermat, what else has been keeping you busy these days?
Johnson: My three boys. They're all playing basketball. AAU, college, high school games. So they keep me pretty much busy. Then in my free time, I do a little personal appearances here and there. I still come back to New York a lot, like the Captain Morgan's event last year. But those guys keep me pretty much busy. My oldest is a freshman at a junior college outside of Chicago. I have two more in high school in Dallas, Texas.
Zwerling: Is their focus to get where you got, obviously playing in the NBA?
Johnson: I don't think they're really that into it. They just like to play. I don't think it's anything after college, though.
Zwerling: Before I let you go, any goals for the new year?
Johnson: I wish I did, man. I'm just working on myself, trying to be better than I was.
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