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James Ager Worthy (born February 27, 1961) is a retired American professional basketball player and current basketball commentator, television host, and analyst. Named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, "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 (2.06 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.
Worthy was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, where his 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game during his senior season led an Ashbrook High team to the state championship game. A high school All-American, he was also selected to play in the 1979 McDonald's All-American game that featured future Naismith Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins and Ralph Sampson.
After graduating high school, Worthy attended the University of North Carolina (UNC). He quickly became a standout at UNC but saw his freshman year cut short by a broken ankle suffered near mid-season. As a sophomore he was a key member of that school's 1981 NCAA runner-up team, playing with 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 which featured future NBA stars Sam Perkins and freshman Michael Jordan. A consensus first team All-American, Worthy shared College Player of the Year honors with Virginia Cavalier Ralph Sampson. The 1982 championship game against the Georgetown Hoyas is notable for Worthy's steal of a pass inadvertently thrown to him by the Hoyas' point guard Fred Brown, which sealed the Tar Heels' 63–62 victory. For the game, Worthy shot 13–17 from the field, scored 28 points and had 4 rebounds, capping a standout performance which won him the NCAA Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player. His tip dunk in front of Patrick Ewing made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine.
Following 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 UNC players to have their numbers retired.
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.
Back and healthy for the opening of the 1983–84 season, Worthy's effective play soon had him replacing Jamaal Wilkes in the starting line-up. The Lakers dominated throughout the Western Conference Playoffs and faced the Boston Celtics in the Finals. It was late in Game 2 of the Finals that Worthy made the now-infamous mistake of throwing an errant crosscourt pass that was picked off by Celtic Gerald Henderson and taken in for the game-tying score. Ultimately, the mistake-prone Lakers lost this game in overtime, and lost this series in seven games.
"Big Game James"
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 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.
Although of lesser renown than teammates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Worthy is regarded as a key contributor to the three NBA championships (1985, 1987, 1988) and the overall success of the Lakers' 1980s basketball dynasty. After the Lakers lost the 1991 Finals to the Chicago Bulls, followed by the sudden retirement of Magic Johnson in November 1991, Worthy played for three more seasons. By this time, injuries and mileage caught up with Worthy: A high ankle injury during the 1991 playoffs and season-ending knee surgery in 1992 robbed Worthy of much of his quickness and leaping ability. After struggling with knee pain in the preseason of the 1994–95 season, Worthy announced his retirement in November 1994, after 12 seasons in the NBA.
Dubbed "Big Game James" by longtime Tar Heel play-by-play radio broadcaster Woody Durham, Worthy played in 926 NBA regular season games, averaging 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists per game. 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. 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 top 50 NBA players of all time in 1996, Worthy was not a first-ballot inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, his first year of eligibility. However, he was later inducted into the Hall in 2003. His jersey No. 42 was retired by the Lakers.
As of the 2012–13 NBA season, Worthy is 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 Laker game telecasts on in Los Angeles; he also serves 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". He also played himself in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
He is the founder of the James Worthy Foundation, 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.
Worthy was married to Angela Wilder from 1984 to 1996; they have two daughters, Sable and Sierra Worthy.
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