James Worthy

Forward, #42

 

Sometimes overshadowed by fellow Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy was an essential piece of the Lakers' Showtime machine in the 1980s. In fact, it’s worth noting that the two best Lakers teams from that era — the 1987 and 1988 championship squads — were led in scoring during the playoffs by James Worthy, who averaged 23.6 and 21.1 points respectively.

Though Worthy's manner was smooth, his game was based on an explosive first step toward the hoop and finishing plays with great violence at the rim. In his time, he was as reliable a finisher as there was in the league. In fact, Worthy was so good at getting to the basket and finishing once there that his first eight years in the league his shooting percentage never was lower than 53% and he had three seasons in which he shot 57%. He ranked in the top 10 in the league in shooting percentage five times.

Efficient? Consider that during the 1984-85 season, Worthy averaged nearly 18 points while taking just 13 shots a game. The following season, he averaged 20 by taking only 14.

Befitting a man nicknamed "Big Game James" — bestowed on him at North Carolina, where he won the 1982 NCAA championship and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player while playing with a freshman named Michael Jordan — Worthy actually averaged more points, rebounds and assists in the playoffs over his career than he did during the regular season.

Still, for someone who exhibited such consistent excellence as a professional, the start of Worthy's Lakers career had its share of starts, stops and one horrific pass.

Taken by the Lakers with the first pick in the 1982 NBA draft, Worthy averaged 13 points a game and was named to the NBA's all-rookie team. But late in the season he broke his leg coming down from a jump ball and was lost for the playoffs.

He responded with a terrific second season, particularly in the playoffs, in which he averaged 17.7 points a game. But that postseason will forever be remembered, and reviled, by Lakers fans for a cross-court pass Worthy threw in the waning seconds of Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The Lakers had already won the first game of the series at Boston Garden and were on the verge of taking the second when Worthy, trapped in the backcourt, threw a cross-court pass that was intercepted by Celtics guard Gerald Henderson, who converted the layup to tie the score. The Celtics went on to win the game and the series in seven games.

Worthy stormed back the following season, averaging 21.5 in the playoffs as the Lakers finally defeated Boston in the NBA Finals.

And when the Showtime Lakers completed the signature achievement of winning a second consecutive title in 1988 — becoming the first team in 20 years to accomplish the feat — it was James Worthy, not Magic or Kareem, who was named Finals MVP.

— Steve Lowery
Feb. 12, 2011

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