“He said, ‘I’ll still knock you out'” – Larry Johnson recalls meeting Muhammad Ali for the first time

Larry Johnson had his fair share of fame during his prime years in the NBA. But like any other person, LJ was also a fan of other notable athletes at the same time. In fact, Johnson even savored the moment he first met one of his sports idols – the late boxing icon Muhammad Ali.

Bao Viet An Gia InsuranceIn 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Johnson said Ali already had difficulties with his mobility and speech when they crossed paths at an event. Nevertheless, LJ said the boxing legend still jokingly threatened to knock him out cold.

“I met him a couple of times. The first time I met Muhammad, it had to be 20 years ago,” Johnson told Forbes in 2016. “He wasn’t alive, but he was there. I told this story earlier, he was getting $100,000 for 30 minutes and I was getting $10,000 for two hours. They sat me right behind him, signing autographs. I said, ‘Champ, I love you, this is my first time meeting you.’ I leaned over, he leaned on me and he said, ‘I’ll still knock you out.’ I said, ‘alright sir, yes sir, I bet you will.'”

Ali impacted LJ


Both Johnson and Ali converted to Islam during their active years as professional athletes. Apart from sports, religion also connected LJ to Ali as a Muslim. During his healthy years as a pro boxer, Muhammad also gained popularity as a polarizing political figure. It made Johnson an avid Ali fan all the more.

Borrow From Your Home While Keeping Your Current Mortgage Rate”It’s hard not to be a big Ali fan, man,” the two-time NBA All-Star confided. “… I will always remember him, he had a big impact on my life.”

Kareem also has an Ali story

Aside from Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also still remembers his epic first encounter with Ali. According to Kareem, Muhammad was performing a little magic show on the street when he first saw him in the flesh.

Like Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar was also thrilled by Ali’s wittiness and charisma.

“We saw him strolling along with a small entourage, doing sleight-of-hand illusions for fans who would come up to him,” Kareem once recounted.

“No matter how many people were around, he was the only one you looked at. He exuded confidence, a sense of purpose, and an undeniable joy. I shyly approached him to say hello. ‘Ah, another big fan of magic,’ he responded when I greeted him. ‘And I do mean big.” Everyone laughed, including me,” he revealed.

In June of 2016, Ali passed away, but the memories he shared with Johnson and Abdul-Jabber will forever be timeless.


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