In 1982, after leading the University of North Carolina Tar Heels (ACC) to their second NCAA basketball title in school history and first under legendary head basketball coach Dean E. Smith, James Worthy elected to forgo his senior year to enter the NBA draft.
Worthy would later become the overall number one pick for the Los Angeles Lakers who were ironically the defending NBA Champions. The Lakers were able to obtain the first round pick by trading Don Ford in 1980 to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Butch Lee and the Cavs' first-round pick in 1982.
Prior to the implementation of the NBA Draft Lottery in 1985, teams with the two worst records from the previous season would engage in a coin flip to determine which team would receive the top pick. During the 1981-82 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished with the worst record so the LA Lakers took their place in the coin flip and won out over the San Diego Clippers to earn the top pick.
As many may recall, in 1979, the Lakers obtained the first-round pick in a trade with the New Orleans Jazz and won the coin flip and were awarded the first overall pick and they selected Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Unlike the current Lakers organization, they were thinking ahead and provided coachable talent.
During their junior seasons in college, James Worthy, and Ralph Sampson shared National Player of the Year honors. Both were projected to be the top two players selected in the 1982 NBA draft and it pretty much shocked the world that Sampson decided to stick around for his senior season at the University of Virginia. With Sampson's size at 7-foot-4 and skill set, he would have definitely been the first player selected in the draft.
Although it was easy for many to criticize Sampson's decision, neither player knew exactly which team would win the coin flip. During the spring of 1982, then NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien, using a silver dollar, made the toss at the league's headquarters in New York City. The Lakers chose heads and became the first team since 1976 to win the top pick on such a call. As a matter of fact, in 12 of the previous 13 years, the toss came up tails.
Fortunately, for Worthy, he became an LA Laker and not a Clipper. Please don't be offended LAC fans, but I'm talking about the 1980s version here. Worthy would become a major contributor to "Showtime" Lakers led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabber.
Worthy's career postseason averages of 21.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game were slightly higher than his regular season averages of 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest. Those postseason numbers earned him the nickname "Big Game James" for his big time playoff performances! He currently serves as an assistant coach (Player development) for the Lakers and analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet Lakers coverage.
Although Worthy never generated all the media attention like former teammates Michael Jordan (UNC), Magic and Kareem did, his contributions and sacrifices to one of the most decorated franchises in NBA history should never be devalued. He's definitely worth his weight in GOLD!
A list of his honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2003); NBA champion (1985, '87, '88); NBA Finals MVP (1988); All-NBA Third Team (1990, '91); All-Rookie Team (1983); Seven-time NBA All-Star (1986-92); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996); Final Four MOP (1982); Named ACC Basketball Legend (2016).