There was NEVER a show like the UNLV Runnin Rebels in 1989-1991. Fab Five? Copies. Kentucky under Cal? No flash. Duke or Carolina? One was too “coached.” The other was too…you know. So what was special about UNLV? They would crush your game and your spirit. You might – MIGHT – beat them on the court, but never off. They ruled Vegas. The on-court leader was Larry Johnson, a 6’6″ rock solid, muscle-bound superhero who could fly through the air, break teeth on rebounds, and throw darts from outside. Game was sick and work ethic was sicker.
What other choice did Charlotte have? The teal and purple (still top 5 uniform all time) needed a flashy player to team with the fundamentalists on the roster. Sure, Muggsy was unique and honestly a great PG, Rex Chapman could throw down, and Dell “I tought him everything he knows” Curry was a dead eye, but the rest of the roster was bench material or on the way out. They finished 26-56 on the season and got the luck of the bounce on Draft Day.
So what did LJ do in his rookie season? Averaged 19 points and 11 boards, and threw in 4 assists for good measure. Broke hearts. Took names. Brought Karl Malone toughness and Jordan air. He won Rookie of the Year and made the Hornets relevant to more than the corner kids. But the second year? Yeah, blew up is probably too general; robbed in the Dunk Contest (Ceballos could see – don’t argue), he teamed up with another muscle-bound, intense center named Alonzo Mourning on what had to be the most intimidating young front line EVER. Watch highlights and see Zo ripping padding off baset supports or LJ catching some dummy sleeping and tomahawking better than anyone not named Nique. This team had style, power, anger, and won. Like…UNLV.
But don’t forget, this is Sneaker History. Converse was still huge in the market then. Magic, Bird, Aguirre, and others rocked the chevron and star and LJ was the next superstar in line.
The first marketing campaign played off of his name – Magic and Bird ina science lab, creating the perfect basketball monster, with Bird’s first name and Magic’s last. Not bad, but not enough. Then came…Grandmama. Whoever thought to dress the best young player on the planet in a flowered dress and horn-rimmed glasses took a chance on getting his teeth knocked out, but it worked. With classics like the AeroGlide, AeroJam (REACT JUICE!!!!!!), and the Tar Max, one thing was certain – they were thick, padded, heavy-duty slabs, just like Grandmama. Just don’t say it to her face.