He was the discounted version of Michael Jordan before Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls. Orlando Woolridge was the flashy, high-scoring Bulls player who entered the slam-dunk contests. Woolridge was very good, averaging better than 17 points during his time with the Bulls. When his playing days were over, Woolridge battled heart disease and tragically died in 2012 at the age of 52.
Orlando Woolridge’s basketball career
Orlando Woolridge, a 6-foot-9 forward, played four years of college basketball at Notre Dame. As a freshman, he played in the NCAA tourney’s Final Four. Woolridge started every game in his final three seasons and helped guide the Irish to two more NCAA tourney berths.
Woolridge was a first-round pick in the 1981 NBA draft. He was selected sixth overall by the Chicago Bulls. In his second season in the NBA, Woolridge averaged 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. For the next three seasons, he averaged better than 20 points per game. He had his best year with the Bulls during the 1984-85 campaign when he averaged 22.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
After five seasons with the Bulls, he signed with the New Jersey Nets as a free agent. In his first season with the Nets, Woolridge averaged 20.7 points per game. After 19 games in his second season, he was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy. He never played for the Nets again. Woolridge went on to play for five more teams. For the Denver Nuggets in 1990-91, he averaged 25.1 points per game. He was third in the league in scoring when he suffered a detached retina.
Woolridge was as athletic as they come
Orlando Woolridge was flashy. He was known for his high-flying dunks. He was a scorer. during the 1984-85 season, Woolridge averaged 22.9 points per game, teaming with rookie Michael Jordan to provide a potent 1-2 scoring punch. Together, the combined to average better than 51 points per game.
“Obviously, he was very, very talented,” said Chicago Bulls former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, according to ESPN back in 2012. “He had strength and athleticism as a player. When we played together at Notre Dame, with his athleticism, as a point guard I always felt I could throw the ball anywhere near the rim and he was able to catch it and do something with it.”
In 1985, Woolridge took part in one of the NBA’s greatest Slam Dunk Contests ever. Woolridge went up against Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Julius Erving, among others. Wilkins, of the Atlanta Hawks, wound up winning the event.
Woolridge died of heart disease in 2012
Orlando Woolridge had been struggling with a heart condition after his playing days were over. According to ESPN, Woolridge’s mother, Mattie Woolridge, said her son had been dealing with a serious heart ailment for about a year before his death. “He’s been sick for quite a while, about a year,” Mattie Woolridge said. “During that time, he has had two heart attacks and he couldn’t hold a job because of his heart.”
“It’s just a sad story because at his core, Orlando was a good guy who liked to laugh and have fun, but everyone knows the demons he battled throughout his life,” said former Notre Dame teammate John Paxson. “We’re all human beings, all have weaknesses but he still had a very, very good career. He was a very talented guy.”
Former Chicago Bears standout running Gale Sayers, who passed away this year, was the godfather of Woolridge’s three children. “When you lose a family member, it’s one of those things where it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be tough for a long time,” Sayers said at the time of Woolridge’s death.