Worthy, Hearn: Time to Shrine

Times Staff Writer

James Worthy whirled past befuddled opponents for 12 standout seasons as a Laker forward, freeing himself for crowd-pleasing dunks or medium-range jump shots during the “Showtime” era of the 1980s. Others gained more acclaim, but few played their roles more dependably than Worthy.

Chick Hearn called Worthy’s every spin, dunk and jumper -- and a great deal more during a 42-year career that made him perhaps the greatest Laker of them all. Certainly, Hearn was as beloved as any Laker player or coach.

Worthy and Hearn will be enshrined tonight in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass., a player and a broadcaster who gave the Lakers an identity that continues to grow even after Worthy’s retirement in 1993 and Hearn’s death last year.


Joining them in the class of 2003 will be former Boston Celtic Robert Parish, former Louisiana Tech women’s coach Leon Barmore, former Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, African American basketball pioneer Earl Lloyd and Italian Olympian Dino Meneghin.

“I’m overwhelmed, actually,” Worthy said. “The closer it gets to the day, the more excited and overwhelmed I get. To go into the Hall with Robert Parish, whom I had many wars against, and also Chick Hearn, who gave me my nickname ‘Big Game James,’ is something I never dreamed of.”

Parish won three championships and was a nine-time All-Star with the Celtics in the 1980s, bettering Worthy and the Lakers for the 1984 title and losing in the 1985 and 1987 Finals.

Worthy was a superb performer for the Lakers, who drafted him first overall in 1982, after his junior season at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in 926 regular-season games, but his value was more evident during the playoffs. His scoring average rose to 21.1 points in postseason play.

In Game 7 of the 1988 Finals, Worthy scored 36 points, took 16 rebounds and added 10 assists as the Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons and became the first team to win consecutive championships since the 1968-69 Celtics. Worthy was named the most valuable player of the Finals.

Others might have overlooked Worthy in a cast of players that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis, but not Hearn. He began calling Worthy “Big Game James” because of his ability to shine when it counted most.

Hearn’s rapid-fire call of the action was suited to basketball, particularly on radio, where his “word’s eye view” brought the game to life for generations of basketball fans in Southern California.

“A Rembrandt with words,” former Laker Jerry West said of Hearn this year.

With Hearn calling the Lakers, Vin Scully on the Dodgers and Bob Miller on the Kings, Southland sports fans could listen to three of the finest announcers in the nation.

“It was Chick Hearn who blazed a trail for so many young broadcasters,” said Marv Albert, longtime New York Knick play-by-play man. “He was the springboard for success, along with Marty Glickman and Johnny Most, for me personally.”

Hearn avoided the conventional, calling games with familiar catch phrases that became known as Chickisms. “The mustard’s off the hot dog,” Hearn would say of a showboating player who made a poor pass.

If a player shed a defender with a clever move, Hearn would say the opponent was “faked into the popcorn machine.” A player dribbling the basketball in rapid fashion down the court was said to be “Yo-yoing up and down.” A player reversing course repeatedly was, “Going back and forth like a windshield wiper.”

For emphasis, Hearn coined the term “slam dunk,” drawing it out as, “Slaaaaam dunk.” He could be critical too, bellowing, “He bloooooows the layup,” after a player missed an easy basket.

When a game was decided, or at least when Hearn believed it was, he would offer his trademark line: “The game is in the refrigerator.”

Hearn often referred to himself as “this reporter,” but his love of the Lakers was difficult to miss, particularly when things weren’t going well. He didn’t gloat in victory, but he wailed unapologetically about the Lakers’ poor play in defeat.

On the occasion of his 3,000th consecutive broadcast, during a streak that would grow to 3,338 games between 1965 and 2001, he saluted his fans at a halftime ceremony during an otherwise forgettable game. Then, as he was about to hike back to his perch high above the western sideline at the Forum, he offered this advice to his lagging team: “C’mon Lakers, you’re playing like dogs.”

The crowd loved it.


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* Francis “Chick” Hearn, a native of Aurora, Ill., established a standard of broadcasting that earned the legendary announcer a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1986. Hearn broadcast 3,338 consecutive games for the Lakers. Hearn’s streak began on Nov. 21, 1965, and extended to Dec. 16, 2001. A member of the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame and a two-time national sportscaster of the year, Hearn earned the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award in 1992. Hearn died on Aug. 5, 2002, in Northridge. He was 85.



* The Gastonia, N.C., native was one of basketball’s greatest fastbreak finishers at the college and professional levels. A 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward who could dominate with his speed and agility, Worthy starred collegiately at the University of North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels to the 1982 NCAA championship in New Orleans and was named MVP of the Final Four. Named Helms Foundation national player of the year, Worthy was selected an All-America 11 times throughout his college career by various organizations. Named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, Worthy played his entire 12-year professional career with the Lakers. He helped lead the Lakers to the 1985, 1987 and 1988 NBA championships and a total of seven NBA Finals appearances. He was chosen for seven NBA All-Star games (1986 to ‘92) and is one of only seven Lakers to have his number (No. 42) retired.



* In 1950, he was the first African American to play in a NBA game with the Washington Capitols. Was instrumental in integrating professional basketball as a player and coach. A native of Alexandria, Va., Lloyd led West Virginia State to two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Assn. championships in 1948 and 1949. Lloyd enjoyed a solid NBA career with the Washington Capitols, Syracuse Nationals and Detroit Pistons. During Syracuse’s championship season in 1955, Lloyd averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, becoming, alongside teammate Jim Tucker, the first African American to win an NBA title. In 1968, Lloyd became the NBA’s first African American assistant coach, joining the staff of the Detroit Pistons. In 1971, he became the second African American head coach, again with Detroit, where he coached future Hall of Famers Dave Bing and Bob Lanier.



* The native of Shreveport, La., holds the NBA record for most seasons (21) and games played (1,611). After his All-America career at Centenary College in which he led the nation in rebounding in the 1974-75 season (15.4), Parish was the first draft choice and eighth overall pick of the Golden State Warriors in 1976. Parish played four seasons with Golden State and then logged 14 seasons with the Boston Celtics (1980 to ‘94) establishing himself as one of the NBA’s premier centers. A nine-time NBA All-Star (1981 to ‘87, 1990-91), Parish teamed with Celtic Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to form one of the finest frontcourts in NBA history. The trio won NBA titles in 1981, 1984 and 1986. Named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996, Parish was an exceptional rebounder, holding the NBA record for defensive rebounds (10,117), playoff record for offensive rebounds (571) and his 14,715 rebounds are sixth best in history.



* Perhaps the most well-known and beloved member of the Harlem Globetrotters. Known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” and for his near-perfect hook-shot from halfcourt, the Wilmington, N.C., native joined the Globetrotters in 1957 and played in over 16,000 games in a career that lasted until 1979. Lemon, who played in more than 70 countries with the Globetrotters and performed before two popes, played with the Bucketeers (1980 to ‘83), Shooting Stars (1984 to ‘87) and the Meadowlark Lemon Harlem All-Stars (1988 to ‘98). He played 50 games for the Globetrotters in 1994. In 2000 he earned the Basketball Hall of Fame’s John Bunn Award, the most prestigious award given by the Hall of Fame outside of actual enshrinement.



* The native of Alano di Piave, Italy, is widely regarded as one of the greatest international players ever and the finest Italian basketball player in history. From the age of 16 to 44, Meneghin played in Italy’s top division, participating in a record 836 games and scoring 8,560 points. He appeared in four Olympics (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984), leading Italy to a silver medal in 1980. In 1970, Meneghin was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, making him one of the first foreign players drafted.



* Compiled a 576-87 record in 20 seasons as head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he began his coaching career as an assistant in 1977. Upon his retirement after the 2001-2002 season, Barmore’s .869 winning percentage was the best in women’s basketball history. The Ruston, La., native was the fastest coach in women’s basketball history to reach 500 victories. Barmore won an NCAA championship in 1988 with a 32-2 record. Under his direction, Louisiana Tech reached five national championship games and nine Final Fours. Named the Naismith coach of the year in 1988, Barmore led Tech to 13 30-win seasons (best in history) and 19 20-plus win seasons (seventh best in history). He coached 12 Kodak All-Americas, four Olympians and 37 first-team all-conference selections.