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Orlando Woolridge dies at 52; former Laker was offensive sparkplug

Over 13 NBA seasons, Woolridge became one of the league's original alley-oop artists, known for his high-flying dunks.

June 02, 2012|Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports
  • The Los Angeles Lakers' Orlando Woolridge dunks over Portland's Kevin Duckworth in May 1989. He was known for his high-flying dunks and ability to throw down lob passes in open court.
The Los Angeles Lakers' Orlando Woolridge dunks over Portland's… (Douglas C. Pizac / Associated…)

Orlando Woolridge, the rugged forward and former Laker who carved out a reputation over 13 NBA seasons as a scoring specialist and became one of the original alley-oop artists, has died. He was 52.

Woolridge, who was with the Lakers from 1988 to 1990, died Thursday at his parents' home in Mansfield, La. He had been receiving hospice care for a chronic heart condition, according to the local coroner's office.

Drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the first round in 1981, Woolridge spent five seasons with the team. He averaged 22.9 points per game in the 1984-85 campaign, which also marked Michael Jordan's rookie year in Chicago.

On the court, Woolridge emerged as an offensive sparkplug. He was known for his high-flying dunks and ability to throw down lob passes in open court.

"He was such an energetic-type, big player," said Jack Sikma, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves who played against Woolridge. "He really was one of the early athletic-type players to come in the league."

During the 1987-88 season, Woolridge was with the New Jersey Nets when he told the NBA he had a cocaine problem. He was suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and he was signed by the Lakers after completing a drug rehabilitation program in Van Nuys.

The 6-foot, 9-inch Woolridge was a consistent offensive presence in Los Angeles, averaging 11 points a game over a two-year span. He made 55.6% of his shots from the floor during the 1989-90 season, fifth best in the league.

He also played for Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia and spent his final two seasons playing in Italy.

After retiring in 1996, he briefly served as head coach of the WNBA's Sparks during the 1998-99 season.

Orlando Vernada Woolridge was born Dec. 16, 1959, in Bernice, La., and played basketball at Notre Dame.

He helped the Fighting Irish reach the NCAA Tournament in each of his four collegiate seasons, including the Final Four as a freshman in 1978.

One of his defining moments came during his senior year at Notre Dame when he hit a jump shot at the buzzer to beat No. 1-ranked Virginia on national television, ending the Cavaliers' 28-game winning streak.

Woolridge is survived by four children, Zachary, Renaldo, Royce and Tiana; his parents, Mattie and Larnceen;and a sister, Dr. Vanessa Woolridge Duplessis.

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