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World B. Free, Clippers' last All-Star starter, has fond memories

Free, an All-Star in 1979-80 when he averaged 30.2 points a game for the then-San Diego Clippers, likes what he sees in current Clippers and their newly minted All-Stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

February 03, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • San Diego Clippers guard World B. Free dribbles the ball up the court during a game against the host Boston Celtics in 1978. Free sees a lot of potential in the Clippers' roster.
San Diego Clippers guard World B. Free dribbles the ball up the court during… (Dick Raphael / NBAE via Getty…)

World B. Free is no longer the answer to a trivia question.

Before the NBA announced that Clippers guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin had been voted onto the Western Conference starting team for the Feb. 26 All-Star game, Free was the last Clipper chosen to start in the league's annual showcase. That was in 1980, the franchise's second season in San Diego after migrating from Buffalo.

All these years later Free is happy to share the distinction.

"Now I guess the torch has been passed on," he said by phone Friday from Philadelphia, where he works as the 76ers' basketball ambassador.

"Blake has a chance to give it to some other young kid 30 years from now. Hopefully sooner than that, though."

A 6-foot-2 guard with a remarkable vertical leap and great midair agility, Free enjoyed his two most productive seasons while with the Clippers. Still known as Lloyd Free when he was acquired from Philadelphia in 1978 for a first-round draft pick, he led the Clippers in scoring with an average of 28.8 points per game in 1978-79. In his lone All-Star season he averaged 30.2 points and finished second to NBA scoring leader George Gervin of San Antonio for the second straight season.

"He was always watching the papers. Every time I'd get 30 he'd get 31 the next game," Free said. "I was going for that title at that time but the most important part was just the guys we had on the team, together. It was a bunch of guys that people thought were misfits and Gene Shue, our coach, put all that talent together and we were right there trying to make playoff runs. It was a beautiful thing.

"Everybody realized we had an opportunity as a team. If they would have kept those guys together the Clippers would have been well known before it was all over."

Free earned his share of fame and scored 14 points in the All-Star game, a 144-136 overtime victory by the East. "Having a chance to come from the Clipper franchise that people just didn't respect at that particular time, I just wanted to have good representation of the Clipper team," he said.

He has only fond memories of his time with the Clippers, which ended when they traded him to Golden State for Phil Smith and a first-round pick on Aug. 28, 1980.

"The fans in San Diego, we had them off the chains. People loved that team. It was unbelievable," said Free, who legally changed his name from Lloyd to World in December 1981. "It was like a family in there. What I loved about it, it was such a close-knit thing with the players and the fans."

Something like the atmosphere developing around the current Clippers. Free said he still has "a love fest" for them.

"Those guys are doing a great job and they're making basketball back there exciting," he said. "The Clippers are doing their thing [and] with those trades it's turned into a real circus out there in a positive way."

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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