A Day at the Office: How Gentleman James Rose Above Rough Stuff
The most dangerous plot of land on the planet Sunday afternoon was probably the small area, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, directly underneath the Forum basket defended by the Celtics.
It is the area ex-Celtic center Bill Russell used to call his office, and he didn’t like visitors.
Sunday, Laker forward Mitch Kupchak entered the office without knocking. Celtic Greg Kite grabbed Kupchak by the neck and flung him to the floor. Hey Al Davis, need a linebacker?
And if anyone asked Kurt Rambis to donate blood Sunday evening, he could tell them, “I gave at the office.”
Over the years, this area has been a Bermuda Triangle for Celtic opponents.
Sunday, James Worthy visited the Celtics’ office. Several times. In one of the most violent games ever played at the Forum, Worthy scored 29 points, almost all of them inside, and all in the second and third quarters.
Worthy found the eye in the hurricane. He went over and under and through the Celtic defense, and escaped without spilling a drop of blood.
None of the Celtics took the time to ask the obvious question of Worthy: “What’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?”
James Worthy is a gentleman. He was reared in North Carolina and went to North Carolina, which has produced such gentlemen pros as Walter Davis, Bobby Jones and Michael Jordan.
A nicer group of guys you’d never want to meet. True sweethearts. Not a cheap shot or unkind word in the carload.
How was it, then, that in this most violent of series, in the roughest of games, that gentleman James could play such an important role?
Especially when he could have been a real pooch. In Game 1 of the series, Worthy contributed his share of fumbling and bumbling to the Laker embarrassment.
In Game 2 he was stronger but ran into foul trouble.
Sunday, in what experts would call a pivotal game, Worthy went scoreless in the first quarter.
Then he went to work. It wasn’t like he busted down the office door. It was more like he flew threw the transom.
“I was a little tense at first,” Worthy said. “I told myself, hey, I have to relax and play my game, don’t worry about making the shots, just take ‘em.
“In the first quarter, I neglected to shoot the ball. I think I took three shots, and they weren’t falling. In the second and third quarters they (his teammates) came down to me, my confidence boosted, I felt pretty good.”
Worthy’s offensive game is swooping. He flies to the hoop with the grace and agility of such famed swoopers as Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving and Connie (the Hawk) Hawkins.
His game is to drive to the hoop, hold the ball at arm’s length, jump up in the air, and invent a shot.
Sunday he got a lot of his points off the famed Laker fast break, which, after Game 1, was rumored to have been shipped off to the Smithsonian. Or to Arlington Cemetery.
The problem for the Celtics is that they have to have someone tall to guard Worthy, and anyone tall enough to guard Worthy isn’t fast enough to keep up with him. Whenever a Celtic took a shot, Worthy immediately began to sprint to the other end of the court.
Witness Worthy’s rebound total Sunday: 1. That wasn’t his job.
Scoring was. During the second and third quarters the Lakers outscored the Celtics by 19 points, and Worthy had 29.
If . . . the Lakers win this series, Worthy’s performance in Game 3 should just about cancel out the debt he incurred last season.
Game 2, Lakers leading, Worthy loops a lazy cross-court pass that gets picked off by Gerald Henderson, who lays it up to send the game into overtime. The Lakers lose. The series turns.
With the possible exception of Doug Flutie’s glorious heave in Miami, Worthy’s wimpy lob was the best-remembered pass of 1984.
Never mind that Worthy set a championship series record for field goal percentage (64%, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s 63%). Who remembers that?
Someone asked Worthy how many days, out of the last 365, he has thought about that pass.
“All of them,” he said.
Then he hedged.
“I spent the summer having people come up to me saying, ‘What happened (on the pass), What happened?’
“That helped me get over it, I was able to get it out of my mind.”
Did anyone ask him about the field goal percentage record?
“No,” Worthy said, with a smile. “I had a pretty good series, but that pass sort of downgraded the whole series.”
No more than Benedict Arnold’s indiscretion downgraded his Army service record.
Not that James takes the entire blame for last season on his shoulders.
“We had opportunities to win (that game) several times after that, so I didn’t feel real bad.”
Shoot, no. James probably felt real peppy and chipper last summer when all those folks asked him about the pass.
He’s probably forgotten all about it by now, right?
Worthy probably doesn’t hate the Celtics, and doesn’t burn with desire for revenge, for personal and professional redemption for last season.
Right. And for James Worthy, Sunday was just another day in the office.