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After 12 Years, Worthy to Call It Quits Today

November 10, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — The end of James Worthy's career, and the end of an era, will come today when the veteran small forward announces his retirement from the Lakers after 12 seasons.

What would have been his 13th started last Friday, but Worthy has been with the team only two days since an Oct. 21 exhibition at the Forum because of the death of his mother. He attended two practices upon returning from services in his native North Carolina, but the Lakers put him on the injured list the day before the season began.

Tendinitis in the left knee was cited, but the real reason was his lack of conditioning after the extended absence and, ultimately, to give him some extra time to consider his future.

"As a result of the unfortunate and unexpected loss of his mom, he has settled into deep contemplation on a number of matters in his life," said his agent, Frank Wheaton.

Worthy is the last active link to the Lakers' Showtime era. Too often regarded as simply a complimentary player to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he was the perfect fit for the signature fast-break offense and a key part of three NBA titles--1985, '87 and '88. He was the most valuable player of that last championship, a seven-game victory over Detroit.

He retires second in team history in steals, fourth in field goals, fifth in scoring, sixth in shooting percentage, eighth in assists and 10th in rebounds. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, with 14 seasons each, spent more time with the Lakers than the No. 1 pick from 1982, and the 12-plus years gave him the longest tenure with one team among active players.

His contract has two years left at $7.2 million for this season and $5.15 million for 1995-96. Wheaton indicated that he expected the Lakers to honor the contract fully.

Worthy had contemplated retiring during the summer but decided to return after meeting with West, the club's executive vice president, and owner Jerry Buss. He even said during training camp he was excited about his 13th season, although he would have had a more reduced role than ever after the acquisition of Cedric Ceballos. But that thinking apparently changed after the death of his mother.

Asked Wednesday whether Worthy might be making a hasty decision because of the tragedy, longtime friend Johnson said, "James never does that. He always thinks things out. He's an intelligent guy. He's doing what's best for him. I really believe that."

Said Kevin McHale, a long-time counterpart with the Boston Celtics and assistant general manager with the Timberwolves: "It's tough when your body starts giving out on you. It's a very hard thing to deal with. There's a time for everybody, and it seems to be James' time now."

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