SELECTED FIRST in the 1982 NBA draft after winning an NCAA title with North Carolina that year, forward James Worthy went on to win three NBA championships with the Lakers and appear in seven All-Star Games. A career that led him to the Hall of Fame and to a place among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 also landed him on five SI covers. At 46 and working the playoffs as a Lakers television analyst, Worthy reflects.
MAY 19, 1986
"My first experience with the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED jinx," says Worthy. "When we beat the Celtics the year before in the Finals, [ Lakers play-by-play man] Chick Hearn gave me the nickname Big Game James. But 1986 was not a good playoffs for me against the Rockets, because Rodney McCray was a savvy defensive player and matched up with me very well." After winning Game 1 in the Western Conference finals, the Lakers lost four straight, and Worthy struggled. "I had yet to really develop my outside shot, so the Twin Towers [ Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson] did a good job of collapsing and containing me. It was definitely CRUNCH TIME, and I didn't come through. After we lost ... there was talk of trading me."
NOV. 30, 1981
"My first cover. We were ranked Number 1, and we got to be shown with Coach [Dean] Smith. It was [from left to right] Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Jimmy Black and myself," says Worthy, who was a junior and in his final season as a Tar Heel. "The starter left out was Michael Jordan. Coach Smith had a rule that freshmen didn't do those things. It was cool to be on the cover, but it's funny to think that Michael got left out."
APRIL 18, 1988
"After we won [the NBA title] in 1987, coach Pat Riley guaranteed we would win it again. It was a great year and a great team," Worthy says of a Lakers squad that went 62--20 and did in fact repeat. "The cover, which we shot after a practice, sums it up. We were really together—there was a great cohesiveness, and guys liked each other. [At the shoot] we jockeyed for position. I was happy to be up top next to Pat and Kareem."
APRIL 5, 1982
"What a feeling to start the season on the cover as Number 1 and end the season on the cover as Number 1!" says Worthy, who had 28 points in UNC's 63--62 win over Georgetown in the final. "It was an intense defensive game; Hoyas center Patrick Ewing was a monster. It ended, with [ Georgetown's] Fred Brown accidentally throwing the ball to me to seal it. It was great to finally get Coach Smith a national title."
JUNE 5, 1989
"We swept our first three series and had won 16 straight games before we lost Magic and Byron [Scott] in the Finals," Worthy says. "It was Kareem's last year, that's what I remember. To be 11--0 in the playoffs and then lose our backcourt before playing the Pistons was tough. I'm not saying we would have beaten them, but it would have been a better series. That was kind of the end of the '80s Showtime era."