Worthy Just Puts Seattle to Sleep

James Worthy, Big Game James, is in his quiet little corner of the locker room, boring reporters to tears.

The Lakers have just blown the once-thought-to-be-pretty-good Seattle SuperSonics off the court and out of town, 130-108, and James went for a quiet 30 points. The Sonics sagged off Worthy a bit and challenged him to pop his 17-foot jumper, and he popped it in their faces, made 13 of 16 field-goal attempts.

Does this hugely impressive performance answer the cynics who said the Lakers were slipping this season?

"We're not trying to answer anybody," Worthy says evenly, politely.

Uh, the team seems to be on somewhat of a roll, eh, James?

Worthy shrugs.

"We focus on what we're supposed to be doing," he says.

And so on.

If it's wild and colorful quotes you want, James is not your man. No pronouncements, predictions, pontifications. No woofings, waxings (poetic or otherwise) or warnings.

You'll never pick up your morning paper and see the headline: "Worthy Vows Revenge," or "Worthy Serves Notice."

What Worthy does after every game is politely and patiently bore you to death. Don't get me wrong, Worthy is charming and intelligent, accessible and cooperative. Other athletes could take lessons in class from Big Game James.

He's just not looking to get himself pasted on the enemy team's bulletin board. He comes to play, not to talk.

On the court, though, in terms of body language, the man is Winston Churchill.

He'll post you up, spin around you, fly over you, outrun you, stick the jumper in your face, finger-roll you, then quietly jog over to the time-out huddle with that look on his face like he's busy figuring a math problem in his head.

This is Magic Johnson's main partner in crime.

"It's really amazing how perfect he and Magic are together, mentally," says Jerry West, the man most responsible for Worthy being a Laker. "It's really beautiful to watch."

The last time the Lakers had a pair such as this was when Jamaal (Silk) Wilkes was the small forward and Magic the point guard. Silk and Magic worked the two-man game about as well as two can work it.

"It's like me and Jamaal," Magic said of Worthy. "We read each other."

How about it, James?

"The minds do meet," Worthy says.

Funny, but Wilkes, like Worthy, prefered to work anonymously, never speaking out, never calling attention to himself and never wasting a movement.

In the second quarter Wednesday night, Johnson spotted Worthy sneaking backdoor and fired an 11-foot-high pass for a smooth James-a-Loop. Magic caught Michael Cooper with one later, just like old times.

After a while, it was embarrassing. The Lakers did everything but run up the South tunnel of the Forum and run fast breaks in the parking lot.

In the fourth quarter, the game long since decided, Seattle guard Sedalle Threatt finally discovered the defense that will stop the Laker break. Johnson was leading the fast break when Threatt wrapped him in a bear hug at half court.

"Never mind, Magic," Threatt seemed to be saying, "we know what comes next."

It was one of those games when you wonder why the Lakers have to bother with riff-raff such as the Sonics, or Suns or Pistons, or any other opponent. Break up the Lakers. It won't be this easy all through the playoffs, of course, it just seemed that way Wednesday.

How can it be otherwise, though, when the Sonics have no answer for Big Game James? How do you stop him? He's too quick for the big guys and too big for the quick guys.

He's too clever, which happens to be his real nickname--Clever. He's clever like Einstein.

"He does not make mistakes," West said.

Ah, but he does. Wednesday night, Worthy had one turnover in 41 minutes. In Game 1, Mr. Butterfingers had two turnovers in 41 minutes. And this is a man who handles the ball a lot, in a lot of high-speed traffic.

West, a man who has spent the last 10 years evaluating just about every basketball player beyond the high school level in the USA, gets misty-eyed talking about Worthy. Or maybe it was the smoke in the air, but West loves this guy.

How could Mr. Clutch not love Big Game James?

West even appreciates the way Worthy handles reporters, how he fills up the notebooks but doesn't say anything, how he saves the fire and the flair for the court.

How do the Lakers react after a smashing performance like this, James?

"You have to let it go," he says in that baritone DJ voice. "You can't say, 'Hey, we've got their number.' We have to not dwell on this, not relax. We focus on what we're supposed to be doing."


The fans love Worthy, though. The fans went crazy for the whole team Wednesday, at one point delivering what Chick Hearn called the longest Forum standing ovation of the season. Or was it the decade? Or world history?

"The fans are great," Worthy says. "I just wish they'd stay till the end."

Ah, there we go. Set the headline: "Worthy Blasts Fleeing Forum Fans."

That's more like it.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World