Larry Johnson’s original ‘Grandmama’ commercial shot at Greiner Middle School

The old YMCA gym on Edgefield Avenue, now part of Greiner Middle School, has a place in advertising history.

Larry Johnson, the No. 1 NBA draft pick at the time, filmed the original “Grandmama” Converse commercial there almost 30 years ago, in 1991.

Johnson, a Skyline High School alumnus who  lead the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to an NCAA championship in 1990, lived in Downtown Dallas at the time, according to this history of the campaign from Yahoo Sports.

“It made sense for us to do something like ‘Grandmama’ because the competition at the time was Michael Jordan,” adman Rich Herstek told that publication. “No human being could beat Michael Jordan, so we had to travel to the land of fantasy instead.”

In the iconic ad, Johnson says his new Converse are “so fast and so light, my grandmama could whoop you in ’em.” Then Johnson appears in drag — floral dress, pearls, cat-eye glasses and pillbox hat — dribbling and dunking all over the court. It forever earned him the nickname “Grandmama.”

The campaign was so successful that it continued for five years, and Johnson even appeared as the character in an episode of the sitcom “Family Matters” in 1993.

In another account of how “Grandmama” came to be, Johnson says he signed a deal with Converse after agreeing to a pitch where he would’ve appeared in a campaign with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but then the idea changed. Johnson said in a 2010 interview that he’d already spent the Converse money buying his mom a house: “I spent the money so I had to do it, but if they came to me right out college and said, ‘We want you to do Grandmama,’ I would have never done it.”

Watch the original ad, filmed at Greiner, below.

Rachel Stone

RACHEL STONE is Oak Cliff editor. Email rstone@advocatemag.com

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