James Worthy and the Los Angeles Lakers eventually had their share of successes against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. But Worthy still fumes over losing the first showdown in the 1984 NBA Finals.
The Lakers and Celtics battled for NBA superiority throughout the 1980s. They met in the Finals for the first time in 1984 in a drama-filled series that included Laker paranoia and Bird’s allegation that the NBA rigged Game 6 in LA’s favor. To this day, Worthy feels LA deserved to win the series.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals
The 1984 NBA Finals offered basketball fans the first chance to see Larry Bird’s Celtics against Magic Johnson’s Lakers. The series lived up to the hype.
Magic and the Lakers took the opener behind 32 points from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Boston rallied to win Game 2, but LA blew the Celtics out in Game 3, as Worthy and six other Lakers scored in double figures.
It appeared LA had the upper hand. Only, Bird and the Celtics refused to lose an edge.
Boston promptly won each of the next two games. Larry Legend had 29 points and 21 rebounds in a crucial overtime victory in Game 4, and the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with a blowout victory of their own in Game 5.
Although LA held home court in Game 6, it had to head back to the Boston Garden for Game 7. Worthy scored 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, but the Lakers came up short.
The Celtics fired the opening salvo in the rivalry of the 1980s, and Bird and Co. celebrated in style. Worthy desperately wishes the Lakers could get that one back.
James Worthy is still upset about the outcome of the ’84 Finals, though his mistake in Game 2 played a huge role
More than 37 years after the Lakers’ devastating defeat at the hands of Larry Bird and the Celtics, James Worthy remains convinced LA was the better team.
Worthy told The Athletic that he still thinks about the series. The former North Carolina standout remains frustrated he cannot say the Lakers — who beat the Celtics in 1985 and 1987 — went 3-0 against Boston in the Finals.
“I hate that we lost in 1984. We felt like we were a better team. Probably should have beaten the Celtics three times.”James Worthy, via The Athletic
Perhaps that statement wouldn’t be necessary had Worthy not committed a crucial mistake in Game 2.
After winning the series opener, the Lakers led late in Game 2 and had the ball close to their basket. Magic returned the ball to Worthy, who inbounded the rock from the sideline. Rather than use his dribble, the Lakers forward lofted a pass to the opposite sideline. That ill-fated choice altered the course of the series.
Celtics guard Gerald Henderson intercepted the ball and laid it in to tie the game. Boston ultimately won in overtime to even the series. Worthy later admitted he still gets night sweats thinking about the moment, and rightly so.
A Lakers win would have meant LA took a 2-0 series lead back to the old Forum. That’s as good as a stranglehold, especially when considering the Lakers went on to win Game 3. Instead, Worthy’s error gave the Celtics a chance, and they eventually capitalized.
However, Worthy’s career became defined by more than just a turnover. In fact, he earned one of the best nicknames in NBA history because of how he came to excel in big games.
Worthy became known as “Big Game James”
The Henderson steal might make it seem as though Worthy shriveled in big moments. In fact, the opposite is true.
Worthy eventually became known as “Big Game James” because he performed when the stakes were the highest. This was especially true during the 1988 playoffs.
The Lakers faced three do-or-dies during the 1988 playoffs. Worthy scored at least 23 points in all three contests. His 36-point triple-double in Game 7 of the Finals against the Detroit Pistons is one of the best individual performances in Finals history. He also poured in 28 points in a must-win Game 6 and earned MVP honors during that series.
Worthy finished his Hall of Fame career with three championships and drew the highest of praises from Magic Johnson. Still, Big Game James continues to agonize over that 1984 loss to Larry Bird and the Celtics.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.