James Worthy was the No. 1 player selected in the 1982 NBA draft. The Los Angeles Lakers earned the top spot in the draft in a previous trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1979-80 season. When Worthy was drafted by the Lakers, Worthy was admittedly confident as he headed for the pro ball. Why wouldn’t it be? He was picked No. 1 and was coming off a national championship in North Carolina.
He admitted he had his eyes set on stealing someone’s starting role with the Lakers. After going through the list, he zeroed in on striker Kurt Rambis, an unassuming player who played his role to perfection. According to Worthy, he quickly got his welcome moment in the NBA from Rambis.
James Worthy lived up to his hype as the No. 1 pick
Digne found himself in the best possible situation when he arrived in the NBA. While most No. 1 picks have to struggle with growing pains while playing for a bad team, Worthy’s situation was much different.
The Lakers had just won an NBA championship after beating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. They already had veteran center Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar and a young point guard in Magic Johnson. Worthy didn’t have to be the go-go guy as a rookie.
He appeared in 77 games, starting one, and averaging 25.6 minutes. He had 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in his first NBA season, and the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Sixers.
Worthy started 53 games the following season and saw his scoring average (14.5) and rebounding average (6.3) improve. He became a full-time starter in the 1984-85 season and saw his minutes rise to 33.7 per game. On a star-laden team, Worthy had 17.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The following season, he made the first of seven consecutive All-Star appearances with an average of 20.0 points. He won three championships with the Lakers and was the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. Worthy was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Worthy admits Rambis proved him wrong
Worthy quickly learned that talent doesn’t always win in the NBA. He also learned that looks can be deceiving.
“When I came to the Lakers, I thought I was pretty good,” Worthy told former Lakers teammate Michael Cooper on the Showtime with Coop podcast. “I was just out of college and had no idea what the NBA was about.
“When I came to the Lakers, I was a little full of myself. I was very confident. So I walked into the gym, and I think I can start here. I don’t know why I had that in mind, but most stupid newbies think that way.
“I walked into the gym, looked at Kareem and was like Kareem’s place was secure. Magic’s place is secure. Jamaal Wilkes was always with us. I looked at Silk and I was like, no, I don’t understand yet. Norm Nixon is still there, and then I looked and said, “Fuck Kurt Rambis.” The fucking guy can’t jump. He had these glasses with tape down the middle to keep them together. He smelled like Ben Gay all the time. I was like, I get this place.
“Well, let me tell you something. Within 35 minutes of those few days of training, Kurt Rambis let me know what a true NBA forward was. He beat me to death. All that talent, all that speed meant nothing when you got into painting with Kurt, man. It was my introduction to the NBA. Kurt Rambis beat me to death.
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