James Worthy

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James Worthy
James Worthy at UNC Basketball game. February 10, 2007.jpg
Worthy in 2007
Personal information
Born (1961-02-27) February 27, 1961 (age 60)
Gastonia, North Carolina
Listed height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Listed weight225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High school Ashbrook (Gastonia, North Carolina)
College North Carolina (1979–1982)
NBA draft 1982 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall
Selected by the Los Angeles Lakers
Playing career1982–1994
Position Small forward
Career history
19821994 Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 16,320 (17.6 ppg)
Rebounds 4,708 (5.1 rpg)
Assists 2,791 (3.0 apg)
Stats   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg at NBA.com
Stats   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

James Ager Worthy (born February 27, 1961) is an American sports commentator, television host, analyst, and former professional basketball player. [1] Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, "Big Game James" was a seven-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA champion, and the 1988 NBA Finals MVP with the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA).


A standout college basketball player for the North Carolina Tar Heels, the small forward was a consensus first-team All-American and shared national player of the year honors en route to leading his team to the 1982 NCAA championship. Named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, he was selected by the Lakers with the first overall pick of the 1982 NBA draft.

Early life

Worthy was born in Gastonia, North Carolina. His 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game during his senior season at Ashbrook High led the team to the state championship game. Named both a Parade Magazine and McDonald's All-American, he was selected to play in the 1979 McDonald's All-American Game that featured future NBA Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, and Ralph Sampson.

College career

After graduating from high school, Worthy attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An immediate standout, his freshman year was cut short near mid-season by a broken ankle. As a sophomore, he was a key member of that school's 1981 NCAA runner-up team, starring alongside Al Wood and Sam Perkins.

As a junior power forward, Worthy was the leading scorer (15.6 points per game) of a Tar Heels NCAA championship team that featured one of the greatest collections of talent in collegiate basketball history, [2] including future NBA stars Sam Perkins and freshman Michael Jordan. A consensus first-team All-American, [3] Worthy was named co-winner of the Helms Foundation Player of the Year with Ralph Sampson of Virginia. [4] [5] He dominated the 1982 championship game against the Georgetown Hoyas, sealing the Tar Heels' 63–62 victory by intercepting an inadvertent pass thrown by Hoya point guard Fred Brown with just seconds remaining. His 13–17 shooting, 28 point, 4 rebound finale capped a standout performance throughout the NCAA tournament, earning him its Most Outstanding Player award. A tip dunk in front of Patrick Ewing captioned "James Worthy slams the door on Georgetown" made the cover of Sports Illustrated . [6]

In the wake of this success Worthy elected to forgo his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He completed his degree later, via summer school. He is one of eight players to have their numbers retired by the Tar Heels. [3]

NBA career

Number 1 pick

The Los Angeles Lakers had received the Cleveland Cavaliers' 1982 first-round draft pick in a 1979 exchange for Don Ford. [7] The Cavaliers finished with the NBA's worst record in the 1981–82 season, leaving a coin toss to decide whether they or the worst record runner-up San Diego Clippers would get the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Lakers won the flip, the first and only time for a reigning league champion. They chose Worthy.

The lanky small forward immediately made an impact as a rookie, averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting a Laker rookie record .579 field goal percentage. With his speed, dynamic ability to score with either hand, and dazzling play above the rim, Worthy thrived in the Lakers' high-octane "Showtime" offense. When not finishing fast breaks with his trademark Statue of Liberty dunks or swooping finger rolls, Worthy was also one of the best post players at his position, with a quick spin move and a deadly turnaround jumpshot. His rookie year ended just when he was hitting his stride, breaking his leg on April 10, 1983, while landing improperly after trying to tap in a missed shot against the Phoenix Suns. [8] He was still named to the 1983 All-Rookie First Team but missed the rest of the season and playoffs.

Back and healthy for the opening of the 1983–84 season, Worthy's effective play soon had him replacing All-Star and fan-favorite Jamaal Wilkes in the starting line-up. The Lakers dominated throughout the Western Conference Playoffs and faced the Boston Celtics in the Finals. The Lakers made many crucial mistakes during the series that cost them a chance at the championship. Late in Game 2, Worthy made an errant cross-court pass that was picked off by Gerald Henderson and taken in for the game-tying score. Game 2 ultimately was won by the Celtics in overtime. The Celtics would go on to win the series in 7 games and despite the late game mistake in game 2, James Worthy had a very strong Finals series with 22.1 pts per game (second to Jabbar) on 63.8% shooting. The Lakers would go into the off-season bitter about the loss and motivated for 1985.

"Big Game James"

In 1985, the Lakers once again met the Celtics in the Finals. This time, however, the series was decided in LA's favor on the famed parquet floor of the Boston Garden.

During the play-off run to title Worthy emerged as a feared clutch performer. He averaged 21.5 points per game on 62.2% shooting in the playoffs, and his play and 23.7 points per game against the Celtics in the Finals [9] confirmed him as one of the league's premier players. It was also in 1985 that the goggles emerged after Worthy suffered a scratched cornea during a March 13 game at the Utah Jazz and started wearing the eyewear the next game March 15 versus the Spurs and for the rest of his career.

The 1985–86 season held tremendous promise for the Lakers, which all disappeared in a preternatural tip in the Western Conference final by 7' 4" Houston Rockets star Ralph Sampson. Worthy had continued to improve, raising his scoring from 17.6 to 20 points per game on 58% shooting and was named to the first of seven consecutive All-Star appearances. However, it was during the 1986 offseason that rumors were floated about a Worthy trade package to the Mavericks for Mark Aguirre and Roy Tarpley. Lakers GM Jerry West held his ground in favor of keeping Worthy and the trade never materialized. However, the Lakers knew that they needed to address the aging Kareem's need for frontcourt support and Worthy reconnected with Magic Johnson in preparation for the upcoming season.

During the 1986–1987 regular season the Lakers added Mychal Thompson to address this need for frontcourt help. The team also transitioned from Kareem's team to Magic and the result was a 65–17 record and what many regard as one of the NBA's all-time great teams [10] sprinting to another NBA title over the Celtics. Worthy was at the top of his game, leading the team with 23.6 points per game in the playoffs. Worthy had a number of huge games during this 87 play-off run, in particular a vintage 39 point performance (including 6 dunks) in a 122–121 win at Seattle in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals and 33 pts 10 assists 9 rebounds in a game 1 victory in the NBA Finals versus the Celtics. The Lakers won the championship 4 games to 2.

Once again Riley drove the Lakers hard in 1987–88, and once again they celebrated a championship, the first back-to-back titles in the NBA since '68-'69 Celtics. During the regular season Worthy averaged 19.7 points and scored a career-high 38 points against the Atlanta Hawks. Worthy led the Lakers in scoring in the 1988 play-offs and led the NBA in points scored during the play-offs. During the Finals against the Pistons Worthy once again excelled, averaging 22 ppg, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in the series. [11] A 28-point, 9 rebound Game 6 and monster 36-16-10 triple-double that carried the Lakers to victory in Game 7 of the Finals earned Worthy the NBA Finals MVP award.

A fourth ring beckoned in 1988–89, but it was not to be. With Riley clamoring for a "Three-peat", the Lakers marched through the regular season and met the Pistons for an encore in the Finals. With Abdul-Jabbar playing his last games and Magic Johnson and Byron Scott missing three due to injuries even Worthy at his play-off best was not nearly enough. In spite of averaging a career Finals high 25.5 ppg, [12] including a career-high 40 points trying to stave off elimination in Game 4, the Lakers were swept in four.

Even on Lakers teams dominated by fellow Hall of Fame and NBA Top 50 teammates Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Worthy stood out during their years together. Worthy led the Lakers in play-off scoring in their championship runs in 1987 (23.6) and 1988 (21.1) and was second to Jabbar in the 1985 championship run (21.5). Worthy always saved his best for the play-offs and averaged 3.5 points higher per game than in the regular season.

The Lakers ran hot again in 1989–90, their 63–19 record the NBA's best despite internal friction that had developed during Pat Riley's final year as head coach. In spite of stepped-up performances by both Johnson (25.2 ppg) and Worthy (24.2 ppg) in the play-offs, LA fell in the Conference semifinals to a hot Phoenix Suns.

It was back to the Finals again 1991, thanks to Worthy's team-leading and career-high 21.4 ppg and the addition of former Tarheel star Sam Perkins. Unfortunately, Worthy suffered a high ankle sprain in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Blazers and was very limited heading into the Finals against the Bulls. Despite LA pulling out a Game 1 victory in Chicago, it ultimately wasn't enough against a surging Chicago Bulls squad led by his former college teammate Michael Jordan. The Lakers ultimately fell in five games and Worthy sat out Game 5 after re-injuring the ankle in Game 4.

It would be Worthy's last chance at a fourth ring. Magic Johnson's sudden retirement in November 1991 threw the Lakers franchise for a loop. Injuries and high mileage soon spelled the end for Worthy. The high ankle injury during the 1991 playoffs and season-ending knee surgery in 1992 had robbed much of his quickness and leaping ability. After struggling with knee pain in the 1994–95 preseason, Worthy announced his retirement in November 1994, after 12 seasons in the NBA.

Worthy played in 926 NBA regular-season games, averaging 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists per game. [13] He played in 143 play-off games and averaged 21.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and had a 54.4 field goal percentage. In 34 NBA Finals games he averaged 22.2 pts per game on 53% shooting. Worthy played in 4 Game 7s in his career and averaged 27 pts 8.2 rebs on 60% shooting in these contests. He ranks sixth all-time in Lakers team scoring (16,320), third all-time in team steals (1,041) and seventh all-time in team field goal percentage (.521). Voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, Worthy was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. His jersey No. 42 was retired by the Lakers.

NBA career statistics

  GPGames played  GS Games started MPG Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage 3P%  3-point field goal percentage FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game APG  Assists per game SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game PPG Points per game Bold Career high
  Won an NBA championship  * Led the league

Regular season

1982–83 L.A. Lakers 77125.6.579.250.6245.
1983–84 L.A. Lakers 82*5329.5.556.000.7596.
1984–85 L.A. Lakers 807633.7.572.000.7766.
1985–86 L.A. Lakers 757332.7.579.000.7715.
1986–87 L.A. Lakers 82*8234.4.539.000.7515.
1987–88 L.A. Lakers 757235.4.531.125.7965.
1988–89 L.A. Lakers 818136.5.548.087.7826.
1989–90 L.A. Lakers 808037.0.548.306.7826.
1990–91 L.A. Lakers 787438.6.492.289.7974.
1991–92 L.A. Lakers 545439.0.447.209.8145.
1992–93 L.A. Lakers 826928.8.447.270.8103.
1993–94 L.A. Lakers 80220.0.406.288.7412.


1984 L.A. Lakers 21033.7.599.500.6095.
1985 L.A. Lakers 191932.9.622.500.6765.
1986 L.A. Lakers 141438.5.558.000.6814.
1987 L.A. Lakers 181837.8.591.000.7535.
1988 L.A. Lakers 242437.3.523.111.7585.
1989 L.A. Lakers 151540.0.567.375.7886.
1990 L.A. Lakers 9940.7.497.250.8375.
1991 L.A. Lakers 181840.7.465.167.7364.
1993 L.A. Lakers 5029.6.372.250.6003.

Post NBA

TV career

Worthy was a studio analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes and co-host of Access SportsNet, the networks' pregame and postgame show for Lakers game telecasts on in Los Angeles; he also served as an NBA analyst for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

Worthy has acted in several television shows. He portrayed the Klingon Koral in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Gambit, Part II". [14] He also guest starred as himself on Everybody Loves Raymond [15] and Webster .

Coaching career

On September 28, 2015, Worthy was hired to work with the Lakers coaching staff with a focus on the team's big men. [16] [17]


Worthy is the founder of the James Worthy Foundation, [18] and dedicates a substantial amount of his time and resources to support non-profit community organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers of America, YMCA, and others.

Personal life

Worthy was married for 12 years to Angela Wilder, and they had two daughters together. They met in 1981 at the University of North Carolina, where she was a cheerleader while he was playing. [19] Worthy and Wilder divorced in 1996. [20]

On November 14, 1990, Worthy was arrested in Houston, and charged with two counts of solicitation of prostitution. He was in the city with the Lakers for a game against the Houston Rockets. According to the police, prior to the game, Worthy called a local escort service and requested that two women be sent to meet him in his hotel room. Unbeknownst to Worthy, police had already shut down the escort service, and they instead sent two undercover vice squad officers to the hotel to meet him. [21] [22] A month later, Worthy pleaded no contest to both charges. He was sentenced to one year of probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service. [21]

See also

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  10. The 7 Greatest NBA Offenses of All Time: "The best offensive team of the Showtime Lakers era — and the best offense in NBA history"
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