Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson’s beef goes way back than fans realize.
The NBA in the 90’s had some of the most intense rivalries between teams ever witnessed. One of these was the devout hatred between the
Miami Heat and the New York Knicks.
The rivalry started with coach Pat Riley controversially leaving the Knicks for the presidency of the Heat in 1994. It crescendoed in Game 4 of the 1998 playoffs when Johnson and Mourning started throwing punches at each other.
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However this battle within the war clearly had subtext to it.
Zo and Larry starred as teammates but their time together was marred with envy.
Larry Johnson had a stellar college career with UNLV and consequently was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the first pick in 1991. He went on to win the rookie of the year, establishing himself as a young star.
Next season, the Hornets got lucky again and drafted Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning with the 2nd pick. He had a great first season too, finishing 2nd in ROTY voting. Thus, the Hornets went from a bad to a really good team very fast, making their first playoffs in 92′-93′.
However despite all the success, Johnson and Mourning regularly clashed off the court. Both had been the Alpha Dogs on their college teams and did not want to back down. In 1994, the Hornets offered Johnson a 12 year, $84 Million deal in 1994 establishing him as the leader of the franchise.
“He’s the leader of this team and he will always be the leader of this team,” Hornets owner George Shinn said.
This proved to be the nail in the coffin for Mourning as he felt there wasn’t enough left for him. Eventually, Mourning was traded to Miami prior to 95′-96′ campaign after he refused to sign an extension.
Interestingly, Larry Johnson was traded to the Knicks in the next season. Hence, the beef between him and Mourning became part of the Knicks-Heat rivalry.