Despite being a #1 overall pick, James Worthy was never the best player on the Lakers. Hell, for a large chunk of his career, he may not have even been the second best player on the team. But with 7 All-Star selections, 3 NBA titles, and 1 NBA Finals MVP award, I think Worthy is perfectly fine with how things turned out.
James Worthy was selected by the Lakers with the #1 overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, thanks to some shrewd dealing with the Cavaliers two years earlier which netted them their first round pick. Worthy walked into a Lakers squad that had just won the NBA title and already featured a young superstar in Magic Johnson. Worthy fit perfectly into the Lakers squad as he had the ability to run the floor and could be a stretch four, something that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in those days. In his rookie season, despite only starting one game, Worthy averaged 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and was robbed of the inaugural NBA 6th Man of the Year award. However, his rookie year ended quite abruptly as a broken leg in mid-April cost him the rest of the season and playoffs.
Worthy came back fully healthy and better than ever the next season, taking Jamaal Wilkes starting spot away and becoming an integral part of the Lakers squad. The Lakers once again made the NBA Finals, matched up against the Celtics. The Lakers, who made mistake after mistake in the Finals, lost to the Celtics in 7 games that year, despite upping his scoring to 17.7 points a game in the playoffs. Worthy was one of those who made a crucial mistake in the playoffs, with his errant cross court pass late in Game leading to a lay-up that tied the game.
Worthy and the Lakers came back hungry in ’85, a year in which Worthy would begin to define his career. One of the things Worthy is most known for is his goggles, which he started wearing in the 1985 season due to an eye injury he suffered in a March game. It was also in the 1984-85 season that Worthy earned his “Big Game James” moniker. While he upped his per game averages in the regular season to 18.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, it was in the playoffs where he stepped up, averaging 21.5 points per game and leading the Lakers to an NBA title, beating the Celtics in 6 games.
Worthy would play 9 more seasons with the Lakers, earning two more titles in ’87 and ’88 respectively. The 1988 NBA Finals saw Worthy put the exclamation point on his “Big Game James” nickname as his triple double of 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in Game 7 of the Finals not only sealed a Lakers title, but was enough to earn him his one and only Finals MVP award. From 1985-86 to 1990-91, Worthy averaged a remarkably consistent 20.5 points and 5.4 rebounds. His 36/16/10 triple-double in the Finals is the most points ever scored in a triple-double during the Finals.
Worthy certainly has earned his placed his name in Lakers lore history. His 16,320 points ranks 6th all-time in Lakers franchise history. His 926 games played as a Laker put him 4th all-time. He ranks 3rd in steals, being one of only five Lakers to break the 1000 steal plateau. And all of that is just regular season stats. His rightfully earned nickname is vindicated by his 3022 career points in the playoffs.
Worthy retired in 1994 during the preseason after Father Time had caught up with him. Despite never truly being the best player on any Lakers squad, he was named to the top 50 players of all-time list the NBA released in 1996, as well as being a Hall of Fame inductee in 2003. Worthy’s jersey hangs in the Staples Center rafters right next to his teammates for so many years, Magic and Kareem. Worthy may never have been the most featured player on his Laker’s teams, but he’s a “worthy” inclusion in the Lakers all-time top 10.