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James Ager Worthy (born February 27, 1961 in Gastonia, North Carolinamarker), is a retired Hall of Famemarker Americanmarker college and professional basketball player. Named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, "Big Game James" was a seven time NBA All-Star and three time NBA champion. 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.

College basketball career

James Worthy was an All-American high school basketball player at Ashbrook High Schoolmarker, in Gastonia, North Carolina. Worthy averaged 21.5 points and 12.5 rebounds during his senior season, for a team that lost in the state championship game. Worthy went on to attend the University of North Carolina. 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.

NCAA Championship

As a junior power forward, Worthy was the leading scorer (15.6 points per game) of a Tar Heel 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 Hoya's 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.

Following this success, Worthy elected to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He went on to complete his degree via summer school. He is one of seven UNC players to have their numbers retired.

Professional basketball career

In the NBA draft, Worthy was chosen first overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Shrewd and opportunistic trade moves made by the Lakers front office, combined with a coin flip victory against the then-San Diego Clippers the year before provided them with the first overall pick, the year after winning the NBA Championship. The NBA soon installed the lottery system to ensure that no team, especially the reigning NBA Champion, would be guaranteed the first pick again.

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 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 after coming down awkwardly from a jumpball in one of the last regular season games of the year.

Back and healthy for the opening of the 1983-1984 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 would lose this series in seven games.

"Big Game James"

1985 saw a Laker team that was on a mission of redemption; 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 .622 percent 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. Worthy would wear protective eyewear for the rest of his career.

The 1985-1986 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 1986-1987 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 an incredible repeat championship, becoming the first team since the Boston Celtics in 1969 to do so. It was during the Finals matchup against the Detroit Pistons that Worthy cemented his reputation as Big Game James. By 1987-1988 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 nine 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 (1988-1989), Kareem'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 3 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' '80s basketball dynasty. After the Lakers lost the 1991 Finals to the Chicago Bulls, followed by the sudden retirement of Magic in November 1991, Worthy played for three more seasons. By this time, injuries and mileage caught up with "Big Game James": 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 1994-1995 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 .544 field goal percentage. In 34 NBA Finals games he averaged 22.2 pts per game on 53% shooting. He ranks fifth all-time in Lakers team scoring (16,320), second all-time in team steals (1,041) and sixth 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 Famemarker in 2000, his first year of eligibility. However, he was later inducted into the Hall in 2003. His jersey (#42) is only one of seven retired by the Los Angeles Lakers, alongside (#44) Jerry West, (#13) Wilt Chamberlain, (#22) Elgin Baylor, (#25) Gail Goodrich, (#32) Magic Johnson, and (#33) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


As of the 2008–09 NBA season, Worthy is the co-host of LTV, the pregame and postgame show for Laker road game telecasts on KCAL-TVmarker in Los Angeles, and also serves as an NBA Analyst for KCBS-TVmarker in Los Angeles. As CEO of Worthy Enterprises, Worthy engages with companies to help them enhance sales and marketing initiatives, improve company culture and teamwork, charitable fundraising, and community relations. Worthy also 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 1984-1996 and they have two daughters, Sable and Sierra Worthy.

1990 police sting

In 1990, Worthy was arrested in Houstonmarker 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. 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.

Acting career

Worthy has acted in several television shows, most notably portraying the Klingon Koral in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Gambit.


  1. UNC Men's Basketball Media Guide, 2007, p. 95
  3. UNC Men's Basketball Media Guide, 2007
  4. SPORTS PEOPLE: PRO BASKETBALL; Worthy Arrested - New York Times
  5. SPORTS PEOPLE: PRO BASKETBALL; No Contest for Worthy - New York Times

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