At the beginning of his basketball journey, he wasn’t too interested in basketball. When he finally decided to give basketball a second chance, he started to make history and earned unanimous praise from coaches and players throughout the NBA. We’re going to dedicate this story to one of the best NBA Small Forwards of all time and Los Angeles Lakers legend – James Worthy.
James Ager Worthy was born on February 27, 1961., in Gastonia, North Carolina. He started playing basketball when he was just four years old, although he later admitted he “just hated the sport.” And while young James wasn’t the biggest basketball fan in the world, his parents, Ervin and Gladys, soon changed his attitude. At that time Worthy’s had only one wish – they wanted for all of their children to attend college, and ultimately, have the better life than they had.
There was only one “small” obstacle on that noble road – they simply didn’t have enough money. In order to help his brothers to continue their studies, James Worthy suddenly found a large enough amount of motivation to play basketball on a much higher level than before. “That was the only reason I wanted to play ball”, Worthy said then.
It didn’t take long for his effort to finally pay off. As a high school sophomore, Worthy had an enormous growth spurt, which he used, along with speed and his smooth basketball skills, to dominate his opponents. “I started getting letters from college in the tenth grade”, once said Worthy. Playing for Ashbrook High School, he was selected to five All-American teams and as a senior earned Conference Player of the Year averaging 21.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. The sky was the limit for Worthy, who was literally buried with an enormous amount of universities offers.
He finally decided to play for North Carolina Tar Heels, mostly because of coach Dean Smith, who promised his parents that “he would have to go to class and go to church unless he had a letter from them.” Worthy quickly began to dominate the NCAA competition, too. “He was the quickest guy on our North Carolina team. And we had Michael Jordan as a freshman”, Dean Smith later said about Worthy who played as a Power Forward for North Carolina.
In 1982., “Big Game James,” as he was called by the Tar Heel radio broadcaster Woody Durham, finally confirmed his new nickname. Worthy, along with Jordan, was the biggest reason why that North Carolina team won the NCAA title against the Georgetown Hoyas. That year, as a Junior, Worthy won the award for the NCAA Most Outstanding Player. In his last season as a Tar Heel, he averaged 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Rather than spend his senior year at North Carolina, Worthy decided to test his luck in the NBA. As it turned out, he made a very good decision, as LA Lakers picked him first overall in 1982. NBA Draft. Young 6’9 Small Forward was selected to All-Rookie First Team in 1982/1983 season, averaging 13.4 points per game, although he was glued to bench behind Jamaal Wilkes. “We could all see he was a big-time player, but I think everybody appreciated what the bridge under the circumstances was that he kept his mouth shut”, said Worthy’s teammate Magic Johnson about the whole situation.
Little by little Worthy finally found his place in the Lakers starting five, and along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, made the most lethal trio in the NBA. Reactions to a new NBA rising star were undivided – James Worthy was quick, explosive and just a “matchup nightmare”, as described by teammate Maurice Lucas.
The author of famous Statue of Liberty Jam won three NBA rings with Lakers (1985., 1987. and 1988.). Later he said that the title won against Celtics in ’85. was his favorite. That year is important due to the fact he suffered a serious eye injury in April against Utah Jazz. Worthy then had to wear his distinctive bug-eyed basketball goggles until the end of his career.
By the time he finished his career, “Big Game James” had seven All-Star appearances. He won the MVP award in 1988. and was chosen among the top 50 NBA players of all time. In 2003. he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and this year he’ll be inducted in the NCAA Basketball Hall Of Fame, too. In his brilliant career, Worthy played 926 regular season games and averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists per game. He was even better in the playoffs – Worthy played 143 playoff games and averaged 21.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.