James Worthy‘s Hall of Fame career spanned 12 NBA seasons. He went to battle with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at his side for most of his playing days. But he wasn’t just a role player. Big Game James won the 1988 Finals MVP, going off for a blistering 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the ’88 Finals’ deciding Game 7.
Even before that electric performance, Worthy had developed a reputation as a deadly scorer, dating back to his days at North Carolina with coach Dean Smith and a young player named Michael Jordan. Worthy averaged nearly 15 points per game in his three years with the Tar Heels. Then he upped that point production to 19.6 ppg as a Laker.
We caught up with the seven-time All-Star to talk about his playing days as a key cog in the Showtime machine and also about the NBA’s new All-Star Game format.
SLAM: What were your initial thoughts when the NBA announced the change in All-Star format?
James Worthy: The first thing that ran through my head was the old format, where you had the Eastern Conference playing against the Western Conference. You had categories of center, guard and forward. Now you only have frontcourt and guard. The beauty about it is that the voting is well-balanced. 50 percent still belongs to the fans. 25 percent belongs to the players and the other 25 percent goes to the media, in regards to choosing the starters. Once the starters are chosen, two captains, the guy from the Eastern Conference who got the most votes and the guy who got the most votes from the Western Conference. Right now it may be Steph Curry and LeBron. They get to choose the remaining starters and they get to choose from each conference. That’s pretty cool. The other thing that’s new is that the NBA has five days, there’s only [two] left, today and tomorrow, where you get two-for-one. That provides the fans with the opportunity to have their vote twice. You have to go on NBA.com or you have to go on NBA App in order for your vote to count twice. Voting concludes on Monday. That’s pretty cool changes that the NBA’s made.
SLAM: If this format was around when you were playing, and you were a captain, who would be your first pick?
JW: I always have said if I’m going to choose a player to dominate a game and score, I would choose MJ. But if I’m going to choose a player to start a team, my first pick is going to be Magic. I’ll be enhancing everyone around him, based on what I experienced for 12 years. I only played one year with Michael. I would choose Magic on my team. If you look at his All-Star history and how he performed and how he entertains, that’s who I’d go with. Kareem, the skyhook, then I’d add Michael, maybe Larry Bird. Dr. J. Man, that’s a tough choice.
SLAM: Speaking of Magic, the Showtime Lakers were way ahead of their time. Can you describe the feeling you had when you were filling the lane, running with Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, AC Green, and then you had Magic throwing you guys those passes?
JW: Once you get used to it, once it became repetition over time, you felt invincible. Knowing that you had a wave coming at the defense. And Magic, who had vision, from the time he got a rebound, he could a 70-foot pass. We felt confident and we understood our brand. We understood what Showtime was all about. A lot of people looked at Showtime as a lot of offense but in order to win titles–I think Golden State has proven it in this modern era–you’ve got to play defense. I think our defense was kind of overlooked because of all the offense we had going. It was a great feeling knowing you had a guy that could get you the ball in unique places. All you had to do was run and utilize your talents. That made for some good chemistry.
SLAM: Speaking of your talents, you played in seven All-Star Games. What are some of the memories that stick out to your from those seven games?
JW: Probably my first one. Not knowing, with so many forwards in the Western Conference, not knowing if you were going to get voted even as a reserve. But because of the Lakers success, we were in the Finals and having that success, to go in with Kareem and Magic quite a few times. I think I earned it but I think some of it did have to do with the success of the Lakers, Pat Riley being the coach. I think 1992 was my last one and I was pleased to get voted in by the coaches. However you get there, it’s a great feeling.
SLAM: Are there any untold All-Star stories that you have?
JW: It’s usually the Saturdays. To me, the Saturdays are the most fun. Seeing Larry Bird walking in front of all the [Three-Point] contestants and congradulate all of them for being second. Seeing Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan dunk contest in Chicago. I thought Dominique won but it was Michael’s town. Seeing the first dunk contest.
SLAM: You were at the one with Dr. J and Larry Nance?
JW: I wasn’t there but I remember it. I just remember Doctor had his fro flying in the wind, taking off from the free-throw line. And Larry Nance was amazing. He had two balls going at once.
SLAM: Are there any guys that have you think are especially deserving of an All-Star spot?
JW: I can’t remember if the Greek Freak has been an All-Star before. [Giannis Antetokounmpo made his first All-Star Game last season–Ed.] A surprise might be somebody like [Kyle] Kuzma, who’s been a dynamic rookie.
NBA All-Star Voting presented by Verizon is open until Jan. 15., via NBA.com and the NBA App. Tickets for all All-Star fan events are now available on NBATickets.com.