When James Worthy retired before the 1994-95 season, it was fitting that Earvin “Magic” Johnson was there to describe Worthy’s career. Johnson, after all, had made the passes on the fast break that set up hundreds of Worthy’s trademark one-handed swooping dunks.
“James Worthy was one of the top 10 — top five — players in playoff history,” Johnson stated at Worthy’s retirement news conference.
No one argued with that assessment. By the time he retired, Worthy owned a Most Outstanding Player Award from the 1982 NCAA Final Four and a Most Valuable Player Award from the ’88 NBA Finals. He was a member of three NBA championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers (1985, ’87, ’88). Worthy’s career postseason averages of 21.1 points and 5.2 rebounds were higher than his regular-season averages of 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Worthy recorded his first triple-double in arguably the biggest game of his career: Game 7 of the ’88 Finals against Detroit, in which Worthy collected 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. He also holds the all-time record for the highest field-goal percentage in a five-game playoff series (.721 in the ’85 Western Conference finals vs. Denver).
Never was a nickname better suited to a player than Worthy’s moniker of “Big Game James.”