Best Season as a Knick: 1997-98- 15.5 PPG, 5.7 Rebounds, .485%
Whether you called him LJ, Grandma Ma, or the Antonio Cromartie of the NBA, Larry Johnson clearly made his mark on the Knicks franchise. He was never the player for the Knicks that he was with UNLV or Charlotte because of the back issues, but he was still an important part of the late 90s/early 2000 Knick teams.
The best thing about LJ was how great of a team player he was. This was a man who scored over 20 points per game in his career before coming to New York, but knew with the Knicks he would have to sacrifice his game and offensive numbers. His numbers did not jump out, but they always seemed better than they really were. He might only score 10 points and grab 5 rebounds, but those were most likely 10 important points and 5 important rebounds, helping contribute to a win. He would also play rock solid d on the opposing teams best offensive player.
His defense was the most underappreciated part of his game. He did not come to the team with a defensive reputation, but he clearly earned it quickly. Jeff Van Gundy would always praise him for his defensive play. He would guard big men, guards, it really did not matter.
Many thought the Knicks would become a softer team after trading Anthony Mason for LJ. Mason was a fan favorite with that tough guy attitude which was such an important part of those teams. LJ fit like a glove. He took over Mason’s role as the tough guy on the team. It was LJ that got up in Alonzo Mourning’s face resulting in the infamous Jeff Van Gundy hanging from Mourning’s leg incident. He also added more of an offensive game than Mason, without giving up the intimidating presence.
LJ always stepped up his game in the post season. He sacrificed his overall offensive numbers, but managed to make so many huge shots in post-season games. People will always point to the 4-point play against the Pacers, but there was much more than that specific moment. In many of those post-season series, he was the lone low post threat on the Knicks. Patrick Ewing was hurt for many of those series, including that series against the Pacers, and it was up to LJ to make up for his loss.
Unfortunately, LJ’s career ended when he was only 31 years old. His back finally went out on him, causing retirement. The Knicks still have not been able to replace the attributes, which he brought to the team and it has been over 10 years. Can you imagine LJ playing along side Melo and Amar’e? That would be nasty.
By Rob Bonanni