It is said that a man's eyes are the windows to his soul,
Worthy, a gifted 6'9" forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, does wear protective eye goggles, which could be considered the storm windows to his soul, but that's it. Most of the time Worthy's eyes are barely open wide enough to be the windows to his face, much less to what are thought by NBA existentialists to be the sunless rooms of his soul.
Worthy's face usually looks sort of sad and vaguely worried, like that of a burglar who has just heard a dog growl. He has the kind of face you might see representing something pathetic or depressing in an Ingmar Bergman movie with subtitles. It is the kind of face that, were you to turn around suddenly during a funeral service, you might very well find standing at the back of the mortuary, counting the house. "Actually, James looks like he'd make a good undertaker," says Worthy's teammate Mitch Kupchak.
Most NBA stars look forward to life after basketball in lucrative careers as TV color men. But Worthy has other plans. "I'd like to be an entrepreneur of some kind," he says. Worthy is planning for something much larger than life; he is planning for life after death. His life, other people's death. "If I could find me a partner who has a funeral home," he says, "I'd like to get into the cemetery business. That's something I could really enjoy. Back in my hometown, that was something that was needed. It could be a good business, especially in the right location. And you know it's going to be steady because people are always going to be kicking the bucket."
When they do, Worthy wants to be there, offering comfort to the bereaved and eternity furniture to the departed. He and his wife, Angela, already ask visitors to their home in Los Angeles to sign a guest register, just as funeral homes do, although in the Worthys' case it may be done more in the tradition of the Southern hospitality in which they both were raised than as a career move. Typically, Worthy has kept fairly quiet about all this, never inquiring of his teammates how they plan to dispose of their everlasting remains. In fact, the only evidence he has ever given of trying to drum up business has been on the basketball floor, where Worthy has been killing people for years.
Last week he helped the Lakers bury the aroused Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinal playoffs, scoring 21 points in the sixth and final game of the series in Dallas on Thursday. Although he was relatively quiet in the opener of the conference finals on Saturday, scoring 12 points in the Lakers' 119-107 win over Houston (see page 56), productivity under pressure has come to be expected of Worthy, who averaged 21.5 points a game last year in the playoffs. More significantly still, his scoring average rose in each series the champion Lakers played, reaching a high of 23.7 in the finals against Boston.
"The bigger the game, the more important the situation, the better James plays," says L.A. coach Pat Riley.
Worthy has proved that rather convincingly by becoming the NBA's alltime leader in career playoff field-goal percentage (.600), topped by an astonishing 72% shooting performance in a five-game series with Denver last season. This season he was the Lakers' second-leading scorer, averaging 20 points. Yet Worthy has done all this without ever taking 30 shots in a game.
A few people still feel Los Angeles blundered in the 1982 draft by taking Worthy over Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins, who led the NBA in scoring this year. "Wilkins missed over a thousand shots this season," Riley points out. "James has barely taken a thousand shots. We don't need that much scoring from him now, but I think James understands that the day will come when he'll not only be asked to do more, it will be demanded of him. And when that time comes, you may see James Worthy lead the league in scoring."
If that does happen, Worthy might allow himself one of those big, sorrowful smiles of his, the kind that makes his face light up like a 40-watt bulb. Worthy knows that it still bothers some people that he looks gloomy most of the time. This is especially true because he plays in L.A., a city where you can be hospitalized and subjected to random urinalysis for giving off bad vibes.