NCAA GOATs: Larry Johnson

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March Madness provided thrills and drama in 2018 worthy of the tournament’s moniker. Tonight a winner will cut the nets and be named champion, with that said, we’re elated to announce our final NCAA GOAT… (like the title didn’t give it away) Larry Johnson!!!

Johnson’s (controversial) path to NCAA dominance doesn’t follow the typical flow of other elite athletes. Junior college at Odessa was Larry’s first stop. For two year he terrorized the nation and became the only basketball player to win Junior College POY twice. Numbers don’t lie:

Genetics, you got ’em or you don’t. Larry Johnson came into this world blessed with the physical attributes of Thor. As a freshman LJ’s physique and strength was greater than most upper classmen. By his senior season, Johnson was a man amongst boys – he could body you in the post. He could drive the lane. If all else failed, then LJ would just go through you. Physically, Johnson fits somewhere between LeBron James and Hershel Walker. His imposing strength and speed as an undersized power forward were the foundational blocks of his legacy. The NCAA has seen dominating, centers, phenomenally talented wings and all sorts of historically great guards; but how many all-time greats are true power forwards? Not many. Questionable business and personal decisions aside, Johnson’s dominance cannot be denied. From 1989- 1991 he averaged 20+ pts, 10+ rebounds, 2 block and a steal per-game at UNLV.

Johnson’s Runnin’ Rebels won through adversity and controversy. It’s widely believed UNLV fixed games and players were receiving outside compensation (to put it simply). The events that unfolded put an asterisk both literally and metaphorically on Johnson’s time in Las Vegas. Fortunately for our purposes, Sneaker History isn’t the NCAA so we don’t hold anything against LJ’s squad. Individual greatness resulted in team success for UNLV and Johnson ending with two Final Four appearances and one National Championship (in which they set the championship game record for margin of victory and total score vs Duke; 103-73). Many believed the 1989 Rebels could have beaten NBA teams – that’s how good they were. In his senior season UNLV went 27-0 while defeating opponents by an average score of 26.7 points.

From a footwear perspective, Larry stayed laced. In the ’80’s UNLV was a flagship program in Nike’s budding basketball category; resulting in all the newest gear ending up in their locker room. Michael Jordan (might sound familiar) was officially a national star and the red/white color scheme of his Bulls’ uniform matched fittingly with UNLV’s apparel. Resulting in Rebel gear elevating in popularity by association. Whatever LJ had on his feet ended up in stores. UNLV shoes and clothing were the it items in streetwear, they started the revolution Michigan (Fab 5) would later finish. Johnson’s footwear contributions will always be remembered as a team effort, but it’s unquestionable he had the (old)heat. Peep some of his best kicks below:

Jam session in the Air Force STS via USA Today
Running the break in the Air Flight ’89 via UNLV
Larry in the Air Force V via Getty Images
Who can name number 32? Both players in the Flight ’89

Which duo of NCAA GOATs would win a game of 2v2? Kemba Walker & Grant Hill or Mike Bibby & Larry Johnson? Tell us in the comments below and thank you for reading our GOATs installments, be sure to check out the other GOATs posts if you haven’t!