Sunday, May 29, 2011
Livin' large with LJ to kick off Memorial Day
By Jared Zwerling
Former Knick Larry Johnson knows how to start things off right.
The No. 1 pick in the 1991 NBA draft hosted a Captain Morgan Long Island Iced Tea party on Thursday night in New York City to kick off the summer with Memorial Day Weekend festivities. It all went down at the luxury midtown Shoreham Hotel in one of the penthouse suites.
While Johnson was enjoying the night with friends, roughly 1,000 other Captain Morgan parties were going on from NYC to St. Louis. Among the other notable hosts included former 76er Darryl Dawkins and former Heat player Voshon Lenard, who threw bashes in Philadelphia and Miami, respectively.
Before LJ mingled with the crowd, I caught up with him to talk about partying, Las Vegas, his draft memories and, of course, the Knicks, including comparisons between Amare Stoudemire and Patrick Ewing. Read on.
How did you first get hooked up with Captain Morgan?
Yes sir, yes sir. I've always been a fan of their product, and I've always drank it. Captain Morgan Long Island Iced Tea is my favorite drink. So when I was approached with this opportunity, I just thought it fit real well. We're just kicking off the summer with a kick-off party with some of my closest friends. I'm doing it here in New York and we got it going on in Philly and we got it going on in Miami. We're just kicking it off to start the summer. We're just trying to tell guys how you do things right and do things in moderation and do it clean, and just have a good time without doing anything bad.
Obviously you've been to a lot of parties in your life. Give me the keys to throwing a kick-a-- party NBA-style. [laughs] Well, you know, for me, it's all about the females, the women. So just so long as we have pretty women, that's the key.
Is there one place, whether it's a city or club, where you've really enjoyed partying? Oh man, I've been around the world. I've been to Miami when they've had Super Bowls there. Their parties are outrageous. And I've been here in New York during playoffs time when we were in the  Finals. Everywhere we went, it was unbelievable. So there's not really a venue, but if I had to say the funnest place is Atlanta. It's just crazy in Atlanta, man. The partying and the night scene is just unbelievable.
Do you have a funny story from a night out with the guys? Well, come on now, it's all a big blur. The memories are unbelievable. I don't know if I can talk about them [laughs].
During the summer, where do you venture out to? Do you have a favorite getaway vacation spot? I'm from Dallas, Texas, so I still got my place there, but I go back and forth between Dallas and Las Vegas. I got a little time share in Vegas. You know, I played college ball there. In Vegas, it's just growing so much. The economy hit everybody bad. It hit Vegas pretty bad too, but you can never tell.
Obviously Memorial Day Weekend helps out Vegas. But, like you said, you can never tell. There's so much development going on there. In fact, Joe Abunussar, a trainer for many top NBA pros, including Chauncey Billups, has built a huge facility out there. If he's out there for the summertime, it's a heck of a traction. To say you'll be working out guys in Vegas for the summer, you can get them to come.
Do you hit the tables out there? I don't, I don't. I mean, that's one of the reasons I can kind of stand it and be there because I'm not a big gambler.
Outside of Captain Morgan, are there any other projects you're working on this summer? I know back in the day you were in the sports movies "Eddie" and "Space Jam." Will we ever see you on the big screen again? [laughs] Well, I wish, man. "Space Jam," "Eddie," all that, that was some fun times. I really took advantage of that because I thought I was going to be on the big screen for sure [laughs]. But my acting is limited. I would love to do something like that, but I don't have anything planned right now.
You were also on a TV show at one point, right? Well, I was on with Eckerel, [who was played by actor] Jaleel White on [the show] "Family Matters." [Johnson's Converse commercial character] Grandmama went on there for an episode.
I know you're involved with the Knicks camps this summer. What's your plan? I'll be out there for different sessions. I'll be helping the kids and just walking around answering questions, and just poke my nose in where I can. If I can put my two cents in, I do.
Speaking of development, the NBA draft is coming up. What do you think the Knicks need? Well, I mean with Chauncey ailing and he's not getting any younger, I still think that they should look for a point guard. But they're drafting 17th I believe? If you were drafting one through five, even 10, then maybe you start looking for something you truly need. But at 17, I would just take the best player that's around at that time.
What are some of your draft memories, from the pre-draft process to the day your name was called? It really bring backs some memories now, man, I'll tell you. I was in New York and it was off the chain. It was one of those fun times. It's a blur to me [laughs]. I had two guys from college with me, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. It was really like a UNLV draft in New York.
Did you go back and forth on a couple of different suit options for draft night? I already had only one. That same suit I wore to the draft was the same suit I wore to meet President [George Bush] the year before [when UNLV won the NCAA national championship] [laughs]. Yeah, man. All I had was one at that time.
Overall, what impressed you about the Knicks this past season? Well, with Amare and Carmelo, I think that those are two great steps in the right direction. New York has been yearning and yearning, and they really want a winner. When it comes to their basketball, they really look tough about their basketball. I do think that they’re putting the pieces together. I think that they need another year or two of seasoning those guys definitely to gel together, someone like Landry Fields. If you can recall, at the beginning of the year when Amare was here, he was having a heck of a season. His whole role, his whole demeanor changed once we got Carmelo. Because when they got Carmelo, the nucleus of the team left. Three or four guys that were playing substantial minutes had to leave. Landry had to make a big adjustment and another season or two with him, he’s going to be a heck of a player. And then I definitely think a point guard is needed, and I think New York will be right back where they need to be.
Speaking of Amare, what qualities do you think he shares with your former teammate Patrick Ewing? Both were leaders and the star big men of their teams. I think both of them were built for New York. I think Patrick coming out of college, coming out of Georgetown, he had that stigma and that mentality, and the only city for him at that time when he came out of Georgetown was New York. New York had that type of attitude, the whole city is like that, so I think Patrick was fitted for New York. And when Amare was over there in Phoenix, he was dominating, man. He was lighting it up. He had a New York mentality, a New York type of game. They both work hard; they both get after it in practice and in the games. And the similarities to me is just wanting to win. I mean, Patrick wanted to be a winner so bad and I think Amare is the same way. They'll do anything; they'll take a back seat or score 25, and on the road they'll get their teammates to play. There are some similarities.
You went from Texas to UNLV to Charlotte and then to New York. When you first got here, was there a wow factor or did you feel like you were ready for the bright lights? No, I definitely wasn't ready for it. It was a transition and I had to get a totally different attitude. There's no monster like New York City during your time playing professional sports in this town. And when I do talk to these guys, guys coming in, I tell them, "Hey man, this is not Phoenix, this is not Seattle, this is New York City." And people will tell you that. There is some truth to that because I tried to make it seem like coming from Charlotte, "Aw hell, I'll just go and play." No. You can't just go out there and play. You better make an adjustment with your thinking, you better make an adjustment where you go, how you speak and all that. It was an adjustment period for me.
Check back next week as LJ relives one of the greatest moments in Knicks history, on the eve of the 12th anniversary of his four-point play in Game 3 of the 1999 Finals.