SBD/June 6, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Larry Johnson Says Infamous "Grandmama" Campaign Was Not Converse's Initial Pitch

Former NBAer Larry Johnson was part of Converse's memorable "Grandmama" ad campaign in the early '90s, but he recently said that was not the initial commercial pitch made to him by the shoe company. Johnson appeared on MSG Network's "Four Courses with J.B. Smoove" and said the only reason he signed with Converse after being the No. 1 pick in the '91 NBA Draft was because the company "had this great idea for a commercial." Johnson: "They were going to lay me down on a gurney, cover me up and have two guys, like, operating on me and at the end, they go, 'Ahhh, the perfect basketball player.'" The people operating on him were going to be revealed as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who Larry Johnson noted were both "Converse guys at the time." The two HOFers would then argue on the name for the player -- Magic repeatedly wanting to call him "Johnson," while Bird wanted to call him "Larry." Larry Johnson after he heard the commercial pitch said his initial reaction was, "I'm signing, give me my money." He signed a $1M deal with the company, but four months later, Johnson said execs told him, "We're not going to do that commercial. ... We're going to put you in a dress and a wig." Johnson: "I said, 'I wish I had that money to give y'all back.'" He added, "I thought I was a pretty good basketball player, but you're going to bring up me putting on a dress? That's what I've got to go by?" Former NBAer John Salley said, "If I was you, I'd go get the residuals." Meanwhile, Smoove said there is "no personality anymore" in shoe campaigns, as players currently "don't do any fun stuff." He cited the "Grandmama" campaign and Nike's "Lil Penny" efforts around former All-Star Penny Hardaway as "two of the best campaigns I've ever seen on TV" ("Four Courses with J.B. Smoove,” MSG Network, 6/5).
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