The day was October 29, 1982. The Lakers were coming off of the 1981-82 season, in which they won the NBA Championship by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 4 games to 2. And with some luck and some shrewd business by the front office, the Lakers also left the 1982 NBA draft with the #1 overall pick. The first and only time the NBA Champions were granted the top pick in the draft. Now how in the world did Lakers GM Bill Sharman pull that off?
In 1979, the Lakers traded Don Ford & their 1980 1st round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Butch Lee & their 1982 first round draft pick. The 1981-82 season would see the Cavaliers finish with the worst record in the NBA. And per league rules at the time, the Lakers won the coin flip between themselves and the San Diego Clippers (the 2nd worst team) to determine who would be granted the #1 overall pick. The Lakers won that coin flip.
The Lakers went on to select James Worthy in the 1982 draft, who elected to skip his senior year of eligibility at the University of North Carolina in order to enter the draft. James had just won the Most Outstanding Player award in the NCAA tournament as his Tarheels defeated the Georgetown Hoyas in the championship game. The Hoyas, led by seven footer Patrick Ewing, would lose 63-62, as James stole a pass with just seconds left in the game.
James was the third #1 overall pick to be selected by the Lakers, the others being Elgin Baylor in 1958 & Magic Johnson, who was drafted just 3 years prior to James in 1979. Although Jerry West is credited with the formation of the "Showtime" Lakers, Bill Sharman, who retired after the 1981-82 season, was the man who formed the team which consisted of Magic, Kareem, Wilkes, Cooper, Nixon, Rambis & McAdoo among others, and was armed with the top pick in the 1982 NBA draft.
On October 29, 1982, the Lakers opened their season on the road against the Golden State Warriors. James Worthy came off of the bench, as Jamal Wilkes was still the starting small forward. But James would show why he was the #1 overall pick, as he was 1 of 5 Lakers to finish the game in double figures, with 18 points. James thrived in the Lakers fast-paced offense, and became quickly known for his 'Statue of Liberty' dunks and finger rolls. No other stats were recorded in Worthy's Laker debut besides for the fact that he made 8 field goals and went 2 for 2 from the free throw line.
And even though the Lakers lost the game 132-117, James showed head coach Pat Riley that he could be relied upon. In his rookie season, James averaged 13.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals & 0.8 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game. He played in 77 games for the Lakers that year, with one start. He would earn All-Rookie First Team honors, even though his season was cut short, as he broke his leg with 5 games remaining in the season. James would return fully healthy the next season and go on to a remarkable career which saw him play 12 years for the Purple & Gold, before he retired after the 1993-94 season due to knee pain.