Perhaps it is appropriate to characterize James Worthy as one of the luckiest players ever to play in the Association. Drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982, the 21 year old Worthy immediately became a member of one of the top two teams in the NBA. Imagine if Worthy had been selected second by the San Diego Clippers, we probably wouldn’t be calling him “Big Game James.” Imagine coming into the league right out of college and trying to establish yourself as a talented player while playing under the likes of Bob McAdoo, Norn Nixon, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It is possible that Worthy might not even be in the Hall of Fame today if it weren’t for the fact that he was drafted by the Lakers.
During his three seasons at North Carolina, Worthy played with one of the greatest collections of talent ever assembled by a collegiate program. During the 1982 season, Worthy stared for the Tar-Heels alongside Sam Perkins. Joining them was a curiously talented freshmen guard named Michael Jordan. This trio carried the Heels to the 1982 Final Four, and eventually to the NCAA Championship game. Worthy and the Heels squared off against Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas, with the Tar Heels prevailing on a late jumper from none other than Michael Jordan.
That year, Worthy was rewarded for his exploits in Tar-Heel blue; he shared National Player of the Year honors with Virginia’s Ralph Sampson after averaging 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. Worthy was also a consensus first team All-American. As always, Worthy was at his best in crunch time; he scored 28 points on 13 of 17 from the field and provided a key steal that helped seal a Carolina victory in the 1982 NCAA Championship game. The legend of “Big Game James” was born.