Historically, James Worthy sort of gets lost in the shuffle. He was third in line behind Magic and Kareem. A vital part of “Showtime” and a guy known for rising to the occasion in big games (hence the nickname), but still someone who, will likely never be remembered as fondly by national observers as his more celebrated teammates.
Today though, on his 52nd birthday, we’ll remember Worthy for the fantastic player he was. Not just the guy who came up big in the playoffs every year, but the guy who night in and night out played a fantastic floor game with an ability to finish in a variety of ways from 18 feet and in regardless of who was guarding him. Watching the clip above, you get a real feel for how fundamentally sound, yet how creative Worthy could be when he had the ball. He had great foot work, a fantastic first step, nice touch, and excellent feel around the basket.
So, while many people nationally will always remember Worthy for raising his game in the big moments, enjoy the video above and appreciate all that he did in the little ones too. He really was a great player.
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
The Lakers got their 9th win of the season against the Hornets by the count 103-87, showing both the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their play so far this season.
In the first half they had trouble defending the Hornets’ pick and roll attack, surrendering open shots at the rim by not helping the helper and ceding open jumpers on the wing on late rotations. On offense they ran a clunky, isolation heavy attack that left them seeking out good shots that came few and far between. The result was a 2 point deficit after 24 minutes born of lackluster play that looked all too familiar.
In the 2nd half, that all changed. On defense, the rotations were more crisp. Back side wings dug down on the roll man and disrupted passes into the paint. The open jumpers that were so prevalent in the first half mostly dried up as well. Defenders were much more engaged all over the floor, talking and active. Dwight Howard took command in the third quarter, controlling the paint on both sides of the floor. The ball moved on offense, shots started to fall, and what was a deficit quickly became a lead that would not be relinquished (in fact, it was barely threatened).
And so, the Lakers won a game they sorely needed. It was a game they should have won, but in a season where nothing has been certain (save for uncertainty), every win is a good one.
But, in a departure from looking at all that went right and wrong in this game, I turn my focus to Kobe Bryant. So excuse me for the fawning that will proceed…
Tonight Kobe Bryant joined an elite club. The number of people who have scored 30,000 points in their NBA career(s), before tonight, totaled four. They are the names of players who only need be identified by a single moniker. Kareem, Jordan, Wilt, The Mailman. These are the faces that have sat on the Mt. Rushmore of scorers in league history. Against the Hornets — the team that drafted him — Kobe joined these men on that mountain.
The points came on a play we’ve seen Kobe make hundreds of times before. After catching the ball on the right wing, he drove past a closing out defender, slithered into the lane, elevated over the help defender, and flicked in a one handed runner while fading to his left. It showed off his body control, his touch around the rim, and the scoring instinct that got him to this point. It was, in many ways, the quintessential Kobe bucket. Not too flashy, but enough of a wow play that makes you want to watch it again.
In between that shot and the the first one he made so many years ago, we’ve seen countless others. So many, in fact, they blur together. The baseline fade away. The pull up at the elbow. The heat check three pointer. The reverse lay in. The thunderous dunk. Through all the makes we’ve marveled at the focus, the footwork, the innovation, the creativity, and the desire. Especially the desire.
Seventeen years ago the Lakers acquired Kobe, a high school guard who had as much talent as moxie. He talked of “taking his talents” to the NBA and the challenge of playing the game at the highest level. In the years since, he’s been humbled plenty and reached the mountain top as an individual and as part of a team. The MVP’s (league and Finals), the championships, the all-star games, the franchise records, and all-NBA nods speak to his greatness.
And, through it all, he’s done it his way. For better and, at times, for worse. Playing his game has left him with as many detractors as he has staunch supporters. It’s also left him with almost universal respect. He’s as hardworking as he is relentless. As unforgiving a competitor as he is driven to improve. For all intents and purposes, he’s a player that’s made himself great as much as he’s had greatness bestowed upon him through his 6 foot, 6 inch frame and the NBA pedigree.
He has been, and continues to be, one of a kind. And he’s still going. Congratulations, Kobe Bean. If they’d told me 17 years ago he’d be this great, I wouldn’t have believed them. Which is probably one of the reasons he’s this great to begin with.
On Friday night, before the Lakers beat the Suns, Kareem finally got his statue. And while the past couple of years produced many jokes and more than a few hard feelings in the lead up to this honor being bestowed, by the time the ceremony took place everything was put in its proper perspective. Kareem spoke about what an honor it was while former teammates talked about how great a player Kareem was and how deserving he was of being immortalized in this way.
Of course, the statue is of Kareem shooting his famed sky hook. The most devastating weapon the game has ever seen, Kareem demolished opponents night after night by swinging left and shooting right over the top of his man. For years this single shot anchored the Lakers’ half court offense and whenever they needed a bucket Magic could hold up the number 5 and signal The Captain to get into the post. And more times than not, he’d deliver.
So, while we honor the man that did so much for the Lakers we should also sit back and enjoy watching him doing what he did best. Here is Kareem, destroying his man with the move he mastered. Congratulations again Captain, you certainly earned it.
Typically, when sports shows present montages of teams that were fortunate enough to win a championship, the underlying message that usually gets thrown out to the fans is that this group of people reached the mountaintop through blood, sweat and tears.
Obviously, the message is often lost on those that rather concentrate on the contributions of superstars; but there is nothing quite like seeing a unit go through some hardships to be the last team standing.
Although, we as the media like to look at the journey from the eyes of the superstars, sometimes the outlook of a player with far less talent can perfectly capture the scene, provided that he is one that plays with heart and hustle.
Today, the seventh best Lakers role player of all-time exemplifies this journey…
To many, Kurt Rambis is the guy that used to play for the Lakers with the cool/goofy glasses. But to diehard basketball and Lakers fans alike, he was so much more.
The big man joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981 and was immediately part of the rotation because he gave the team some interior defense as well as some much needed rebounding. With Rambis backing up at power forward, the Los Angeles Lakers won the world title in his rookie season.
By his second year with the Lakers, he was getting 23.2 minutes per game, and played the part of a reliable big man for the team.
Mind you, his minutes took a dip the following year (1983-84 regular season), as Norm Nixon was traded and Byron Scot joined the team. That combined with the emergence of James Worthy meant that the Lakers would occasionally use Big Game James at the power forward spot with Scott and Michael Cooper taking over duties at shooting guard and small forward on occasion.
The Lakers fell at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, and the Lakers redefined themselves ever so slightly. With Jamaal Wilkes’ rebounding numbers on the decline, Pat Riley once again started giving more minutes to the Santa Clara product in order to help shore up the defense and protect the backboards.
The Lakers faced the stigma of being a soft team with their loss at the hands of the Celtics in the ’84 Finals.
They were Showtime.
They outran teams, executed better and played sharper than most of their opponents, but were they tougher? Many felt they were not after being humbled by Boston.
The truth was that although they were a finesse team, they certainly knew how to impose their will on the game and even occasionally get scrappy.
Kurt Rambis was one of the players that exhibited the Lakers’ grit perfectly. During the purple and gold’s run through the 1980s, the man with the glasses appeared in 493 games, averaged 18.7 minutes per game, 5.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game on 55.3 percent field goal shooting.
The numbers are rather miniscule in truth, but they do not tell the whole story.
The Santa Clara product was called upon to defend power forwards, set screens, rebound, get out of the way on offense — literally — and finish plays whenever defenders completely forgot about him. The tasks might not sound like much, but every now and then, Rambis had to play the role of enforcer, where he took a few hard fouls and refused to allow opponents to punk either him or his team.
On a team renowned for flash, glamour and glitz, Rambis was one of the few guys in the rotation that had to play ugly for the team to be successful.
Consequently, his contributions often get overlooked or even marginalized, but he was a big part of the championship puzzle in the early 80s; as he was called upon to defend the ever clever Kevin McHale, who is considered to have the most devastating array of post moves in NBA history.
With Rambis patrolling the paint next to Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers rebounded in the 1985 playoffs and defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
In ensuing seasons, his playing time decreased as A.C. Green would become a more prominent player for the Lakers given his ability to help execute the zone trap, and Mychal Thompson was acquired to help defend the post, which in turn made Rambis the odd man out. He still got some regular minutes, but nothing quite like what he enjoyed in his first two seasons with the club.
Nonetheless, the 6’8’’ forward was a contributor to the greatest Los Angeles Lakers teams as voted by our own FB&G panel, and he also managed to be part of one the few NBA dynasties.
He eventually left the team and joined a few other ball clubs before returning to the Lakers for his final two seasons before retiring.
Some might argue that both Bob McAdoo and Rick Fox should have been ahead of Rambis, and that is certainly debatable, but Rambis edged both out by spending the first seven seasons of his career playing for the Lakers during their most successful run since moving to Los Angeles. With Kurt Rambis alternating between starter and reserve big man, the Lakers made seven appearances in the Western Conference Finals, six trips to the NBA Finals and won four titles.
Rambis may not have been the most important player for the Lakers, but he most certainly illustrated in many ways what the Lakers were not. They were not soft, they weren’t just style over substance and they were not a gang of chumps.
Kurt Rambis not only gave the Lakers blood, sweat and tears, but he also represented it better than most.