Throwback Thursday Player - James Worthy
James Ager Worthy, born February 27, 1961, "Big Game James" was a seven-time NBA All-Star, a three-time NBA champion and the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. A standout for the North Carolina Tar Heels, the 6 ft 9 in (2.05 m) small forward was the MOP of the 1982 NCAA Tournament and #1 pick of the 1982 NBA Draft. He is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In a 1980 trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers received the Cavaliers' 1982 first round draft pick in exchange for Don Ford. The Cavaliers finished with the NBA's worst record in the 1981–82 season, putting the Lakers in automatic contention for one of the top two picks in the 1982 Draft. The only further requirement for the Lakers to land the first pick was to win a coin toss which determined the placement of the first two draftees (all other draft positions were awarded to teams in descending order of their record in the previous season; this practice ended with the advent of the Draft Lottery in 1985). The Lakers won the coin toss against the San Diego Clippers and received the first pick, with which they selected Worthy. As a result, the Lakers became the first and only team to acquire the top pick in the Draft after having won that season's championship.
Worthy immediately made an impact as a rookie, averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting a Laker rookie record .579 field goal percentage. He was also named to the 1983 All-Rookie First Team. Worthy thrived in the Laker's fastbreak style called "Showtime" with his speed and his dynamic ability to score with either hand and play above the rim. Beyond just finishing a fastbreak with his trademark Statue of Liberty dunks or swooping finger rolls, Worthy was also one of the best baseline post players at the small forward position, with a quick spin move and a deadly turnaround jumpshot. Unfortunately, his rookie year ended on a down note as Worthy broke his leg while landing improperly after trying to tap in a missed shot against the Phoenix Suns on April 10, 1983. Worthy missed the rest of the season and playoffs.
In 1985, a Lakers team was on a mission of redemption in; it was during the play-off run to winning the championship that year that Worthy took a big step forward as a clutch performer. Worthy averaged 21.5 points per game on 62.2% shooting in the playoffs, and it was his inspired play against the Celtics (23.7 points per game in the Finals) that further established Worthy as one of the league's premier players. It was also in 1985, after sustaining an eye injury against the Utah Jazz in March, that Worthy was forced to wear goggles. He wore protective eyewear for the rest of his career.
The 1985–86 season, although ending badly for the Lakers after a playoff flameout against the Houston Rockets, began the first of seven consecutive All-Star appearances for Worthy. The 1986–87 Championship Laker team, regarded by many[weasel words] as one of the NBA's all time great teams, saw Worthy at the top of his game as he averaged 23.6 points per game in the playoffs.
1988 saw the Lakers pull off a repeat championship, becoming the first team since the Boston Celtics in 1969 to do so. Worthy averaged 19.7 points and scored his regular season career-high 38 points against the Atlanta Hawks. It was during the Finals matchup against the Detroit Pistons that Worthy cemented his reputation as Big Game James. By 1987–88 it was clear an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had to pick his spots; it was Worthy, point guard Magic Johnson, and shooting guard Byron Scott that began to pick up the slack. Against the Pistons, Worthy more than picked up his share and provided 22 points per game 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists game in the series. His 28 points and 9 rebounds in Game 6 and triple double effort of 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 7 of the Finals earned him his first and only Most Valuable Player award.
The following season (1988–89), Abdul-Jabbar's last, saw the Lakers again make the NBA Finals in a rematch again the Detroit Pistons. This time, Magic Johnson and Byron Scott missed three games due to injuries and the Lakers were swept in four games. Worthy, however, was again in championship form and averaged 25.5 points per game in the Finals, including a playoff career-high scoring effort of 40 points in Game 4.