TBP of the Month from TheCoLA: Larry Johnson (February 2015 Edition)

Grand-Ma-Ma is in the building!

larry_johnson_as_grandmama__family_matters__by_dlee1293847-d79elem

Larry Johnson was an impenetrable, gold-toothed, flower dress-wearing, physical force in the paint for the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks in the 90s.  LJ was the whole package,  he had a signature shoe by Converse that introduced React Juice to the world, he had a great alter-ego personality for his shoe commercials known as Grand-Ma-Ma, he had a gold tooth, a million dollar smile, AND he had PROBABLY the greatest post-big-shot celebration: L-J signature sign-off.

Larry+Johnson-0

We’ll jump right into ALL of this and more, maybe we’ll even follow the LJ timeline to TGIF Television’s “Family Matters” appearances, but we’ll have to wait and see (that’s called a teaser).

College:

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels:

unlv.red.west

I love these old 90s team pictures

unlv-1990-560x350

  •  The 1989-90 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were men among boys in the NCAA men’s basketball landscape.  Lead by Junior College transfer (Odessa College) and future NBA star Larry Johnson, the Runnin’ Rebels of Sin City finished the season at 35-5 while conquering the Laettner lead Blue Devils for the 1990 NCAA championship and college hoops immortality.
  • With an average margin of victory of 18 points per game in the National Tournament, UNLV breezed through without a hick-up (except for a 2 point victory over Ball State in the sweet 16) on it’s way to the school’s first National Championship.  Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt, Stacey Augmon and David Butler were house-hold names, and the squad would look to repeat and solidify a college dynasty the following year in 1990-91.  Unfortunately for them, Duke’s Christian Laettner wasn’t about to let that happen.

Larry Johnson averaged 21.6 ppg, 1.5 bpg, 11 rpg, and shot 64% from the field with 35% from behind the three point line while at UNLV.  He would go on to win the NCAA Player of the Year Award in 1991 as well as the John R. Wooden Award (’91).

Long story short, LJ was the man in college and quickly transitioned that over to the NBA.

NBA:

Johnson was selected 1st overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991, by way of UNLV and Coach Jerry Tarkanian (read about Coach Tark).  LJ would become the Rookie of the Year in the NBA in 1992 and be an All-NBA Rookie First Team selection as well, averaging 19 ppg and 11rpg.  He would help lead the Charlotte Hornets out of the dumpster and into relevancy in the Eastern Conference.

user10076724_pic20372_1305764755

In LJ’s second year in Charlotte, along side future HOFer Alonzo Mourning, the most annoying defender EVER: Mugsy Bogues and the poor man’s MJ: Kendall Gill, the Hornets finished with a 44-38 record taking them to the Eastern Conference playoffs, eventually losing to the John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason (RIP) Knicks in the semi-finals.  Who of course then got rolled by MJ’s Chicago Bulls.

  • But in only two years, LJ had become a PRESENCE on the court and a personality off the court in the NBA.  He inked himself a big shoe deal with converse, which intro’d the BEST post-Chuck Taylor Converse shoe that would EVER be released:

$_35

5b1510cd-5e49-4370-ac68-eeba4f182832_4__L

This LJ phenomena took the league by storm, he was a great player, a HUGE personality (to go with being a huge physical specimen) with a bright, shiny, gold-toothed smile that sold the purity of hard-nosed basketball.  He was Mike Tyson meets Shawn Kemp meets Charles Barkley meets………..Grand Ma Ma.

He was loud, tough, BIG, and most importantly he brought a love for the game and a passion to compete that the fans LOVED.

When LJ‘s alter-ego (?) Grand Ma Ma took off in popularity, it reached levels outside of JUST basketball and hoops fashion (although the dress and wig never real caught on).  Grand Ma Ma was about to hit prime-time TGIF television, care of “Family Matters” when Steve Urkel needed a 2 on 2 teammate to beat Eddie (too many Urkels on your team, that’s why ya) Winslow in a basketball tournament:

Due to copyright infringement, Warner Bros took down the real episode, apparently Grand Ma Ma playing basketball with Urkel is too important for Warner Bros’ bottom line to be available on youtube.

29859_993851906558_1b5ca98e60

Lastly, before we let LJ ride off into the sunset.  We must discuss his signature hand/arm/L.J. sign-language brilliance, that if you saw as a defender it only meant your demise and eventual downfall.

big_lny_greatest_knicks_18The man spelled his name with his arms.  What other player in NBA history has been able to accomplish such a feet!?!?  Did you ever see Vlade Divac or Nikoloz Tskitishvili or even Michael Jordan sign language/quiet a crowd after a HUGE jumper???  NOPE.

Larry Johnson OWNS the post-made shot-sign language-celebration industry.

And just so you Knicks fans have something to smile about, here you go:

We miss ya LJ and we miss your Grand Ma Ma too.

Nights With Leon Bridges

 leon_bw_1

I’ve had the privilege of going coast to coast this February to see Leon Bridges’ first solo show in New York City at the Mercury Lounge followed by his first Los Angeles show last Tuesday night at Hotel Café. I say privilege because that is the most honest way I could verbalize what it feels like to bear witness to a live performance of his. Listening live all I could think was, “I feel like this is going to be important later on.”

What started six months ago for me as a homegrown fascination caused by my brother turning me onto two tracks from “an unrepped kid out of Fort Worth, Texas” has rapidly evolved into an almost unanimous love affair between the hippest music blogs on the Internet and their latest darling. At this pace, he’s on track to be the music industry’s latest darling by summer and walk away with the Grammy for Best New Artist by this time next year.

  •  Considering that he still has yet to drop his first album, the fact that he has already developed a broad, unyielding fan base is quite impressive. Especially since, until recently, his beautifully crafted yet sparse online presence tended to leave you with more questions than answers. Despite this, on every level, the Leon Bridges fan club feels like it is standing room only. Maybe because, for once, there’s no need for spin? The person, the brand and the music are all interchangeable because they’re all classically genuine.

New York

In Manhattan I watched the show. I got swept up in the moment like everyone else instantly. I fought to take in each detail, every nuance, in case I find myself in a position to retell the story at a dinner party someday. Even under scrutiny, there doesn’t seem to be any duality in his stage presence and his real life presence. In the extra lingering seconds it took to tune the guitar before beginning their first song, his boyish glances and apologetic smiles only made the audience love him more. He announced the title of each song before playing it. He thanked us for listening after each song finished. He set up his two background singers in the foreground right beside him. Like everything else, this felt like a conscious decision to value everyone equally. In terms of style, every member of the band seemed to be of the same vintage. Except the saxophone player. He seemed to be the only one bebopping to his own tune. And yet, it worked. His talents and goofy on-stage presence only gave the entire experience more personality.

 Set list:

 Better Man

Brown Skin Girl

Flowers

Pull Away

Smooth Sailing

There She Goes

In My Arms

Coming Home

Daisy Mae

Twistin & Groovin

Lisa Sawyer

Shine

[Encore]

River

Los Angeles

By showtime in Los Angeles I had one extra ticket. A friend had dropped out at the eleventh hour and I made a snap decision to give it away for free to one of the hopefuls roped off outside the venue. I thought briefly about selling it but it just didn’t feel right. Somehow, bringing the experience of Leon into a stranger’s life made me feel good inside.

In LA I watched the crowd. I watched new faces experience him for the first time, which was an entirely different, equally thrilling experience. I saw couples tap each other on the shoulder and mouth, “He is incredible.” Then I watched the partner mouth back, “I told you.” I watched the grin on one friend’s face a few paces away continue to spread, song after song, until he was chuckling at his own bemusement. He couldn’t believe his ears.

  • There was a moment halfway through each performance when the melody transitioned from peppy doo-wop to soulful ballad and the audience transitioned from a sway to a standstill. Enthrallment to awe. In New York it was during “In My Arms”, in LA it was during “Daisy Mae.” Both times we melted together into a puddle on the floor. Both times everyone else seemed to realize what I had, too. That this was all going to be important later on.

leon_bw_2

Everything about Leon Bridges seems like it pre-dates the concept of branding, so I won’t bother exploring it. Besides, I’m not sure you can call it branding when you’re just walking around being who you are. Anyone who hasn’t already should check out his talented photo ally, Erin Rambo [@theerinmargaret on Instagram], who is responsible for the stark black & whites on his site. She is an artist and a future visionary in her own right.

Looking forward, he might be known for having one of the least polarizing voices set in front of a microphone. So far I haven’t met anyone who has heard his sound and decided they weren’t into it afterward. The only thing that seems to be prohibitive is if you can’t get to his music. The breadth of his appeal might be limited by the technology he relies on for people to hear his music. He’s already positioned to bridge the generational gap because of his nostalgic Sam Cooke vocals (and because he is unassuming instead of egoistical and we’re starved for humility in our performers these days).

If you’re a woman, there is only one potential downside that’s worth considering before stepping into a Leon Bridges’ show. If you go through with it, he might ruin you for all other men. If you’re a man, you must consider the same ripple effects of this reality before taking your newest snuggle. You could be going home alone if you don’t because she’s been reminded that men with classic values and follow through still exist.

  •  Eighteen months ago Leon Bridges was a dishwasher who didn’t think singing was for him. Today he’s an up-and-coming Columbia artist playing to small sold out shows. Right now everyone who has seen him live feels like they are in on the same secret. All of us know it won’t be a secret for long.

written by A. M. Boidock

-A.M. Boidock is a Contributor to TheCoLA-