Under ordinary circumstances, facing off against Michael Jordan was an intimidating experience. Not only did His Airness possess incredible talent, but he also wasn’t one to stand on ceremony. Whether you were an NBA legend, a rookie, or anyone in between, he’d challenge you with equal ease. In the early 1990s, Larry Johnson learned that the hard way.
During the early days of his NBA career, Johnson stepped onto the hardwood and met Jordan for the first time. MJ wasn’t prepared to exchange pleasantries, though. Instead, he asked the forward a question about his mother and then went about his business.
Michael Jordan had an uncanny knack for talking trash
It goes without saying that His Airness hit the NBA hardwood with plenty of talents in tow. Beyond his physical gifts, Jordan also possessed some additional weapons: a razor-sharp tongue and an arsenal of biting trash talk.
Given his almost compulsive desire to win, that willingness to engage in verbal warfare isn’t exactly surprising. While MJ didn’t have a problem pushing his opponent’s buttons and putting them in their place — just ask Reggie Miller about that — he was an equal-opportunity insulter.
According to the stories that have emerged over the years, Jordan was more than willing to trash-talk anyone within earshot. Rodney McCray was branded a loser during his time with the Bulls; an unlucky Utah Jazz fan also felt His Airness’ wrath during the 1987 campaign. Even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama absorbed some shots from MJ regarding their respective golf games.
That’s not to say that Jordan was always mean and antagonistic, though. On at least one occasion, he took a more subtle approach to getting into an opponent’s head.
Michael Jordan asked Larry Johnson how his mother was
Given MJ’s star status, it’s completely understandable that an NBA player would remember their first meeting with His Airness. Larry Johnson is no exception to that rule.
The forward entered the Association in 1991 and, before long, crossed paths with Jordan on the hardwood. When the pair met, though, MJ had an unusual question up his (metaphorical) sleeve.
“He did some bulls—,” Johnson recalled on The Players’ Tribune’s Knuckleheads podcast. “The first time I met him, we walked out on the court, and he walks straight up to me and goes, ‘How’s Dorothy?'”
While hosts Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles thought Jordan was trying to tell Johnson that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore, that wasn’t the case. The living legend was actually getting a bit more personal.
“He said, ‘How’s Dorothy?’ That’s my mom,” Johnson continued. “I couldn’t play the whole game. … He walked up to me and asked me how my mom was. Used her name. Used her name. He done went in the program and saw my mom’s name was Dorothy. Went in the program, used my mom’s name. I think I scored eight points. I was averaging 24.”
Larry Johnson struggled that night but still went on to have a solid NBA career
While Johnson didn’t confirm exactly when that exchange with MJ took place, it’s probably safe to assume that it was relatively early in the forward’s professional career since it was the first time the two men had ever met. The Hornets forward did struggle that night, but Jordan’s trash talk didn’t seem to have any long-term effects.
After a decorated college career at UNLV, Johnson joined the NBA ranks as the first overall pick of the 1991 draft. He averaged 19.2 points and 11.0 rebounds during his first professional campaign and claimed the Rookie of the Year title. He followed that up with an even more impressive sophomore campaign, earning his first career All-Star nod. The power forward was even relevant enough to make an appearance in Space Jam as one of the players whose talent was stolen by the Monstars.
While injuries eventually curtailed his time on the hardwood, Johnson still spent 10 seasons in the Association before riding off into the sunset. He suited up for 707 games and, if his appearance on Knuckleheads was any indication, left basketball with an unforgettable memory courtesy of Michael Jordan.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.