James Worthy Tells Us Who He Would (And Wouldn’t) Have Picked As An All-Star Captain In His Day

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The second round of NBA All-Star fan voting results came in on Thursday, with LeBron James and Steph Curry overtaking Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant for the top spots in each conference.

With the new changes to the All-Star format this season, shifting from the traditional West vs. East matchup to having team captains drafting teams, being the top vote-getter carries a bigger importance. Voting ends on Jan. 15, with votes being cast on NBA.com and the NBA App counting double on the final weekend as we near the selections being made official.

Unfortunately, the draft won’t be televised or broadcast anywhere this year, as commissioner Adam Silver noted the concerns of players that it could put the captains in difficult spots as they’d be picking players over others (which, like, is the entire reason the new format is intriguing). Hopefully that changes in the near future, but for now, we’ll just have to speculate about what the decision-making process was for each captain and where players were drafted.

With fan voting closing soon, 7-time NBA All-Star James Worthy spoke with us about why he’s in favor of the new format and how he thinks things would have gone back when he was an All-Star had guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird been captains. Worthy noted that he thought the Sunday game had grown stale and how the new format can bring a much needed new focus to the All-Star Game itself.

“I think it’s going to be pretty interesting, actually,” Worthy told DIME. “From my perspective, the old format, by Sunday, was pretty boring. The Saturday events have always been really high intense and a lot of people look forward to that. The game needed some change, and I think the NBA did a good job…because you’re not going to have conference playing against conference, but you’ll have All-Stars playing against All-Stars. To me, that brings the whole Sunday game into a grand finale, in my opinion.”

Players from the 80s and 90s often discuss how different the game is now in terms of player rivalries and guys nowadays being friendlier with each other. Worthy noted he sees guys come into the Lakers facility in the offseason like Kevin Durant to workout and how guys coming up together through AAU tournaments has changed that dynamic as well. So, I wanted to know how he thinks things would’ve been handled back in his day when there were stronger rivalry lines drawn than maybe there are today.

As for how Magic and Bird would’ve approached the game, Worthy thinks the intense rivalry between the conferences at the time would’ve dictated that things would’ve looked very similar to the conference vs. conference teams, with a few possible exceptions.

“I’m pretty sure Larry would’ve chosen all Eastern Conference players and Magic would’ve chosen all Western Conference players (laughs),” Worthy said. “That’s the way it was. Too much hate. Not personally, but rivalry hate. I wouldn’t have wanted to play on a team with Larry in the All-Star Game. I was waiting til June [to play the Celtics]. In all seriousness, though, it may have worked. Magic was really good friends with Isiah [Thomas]. I don’t know if Bird was friends with anybody in the Western Conference, so I couldn’t see him choosing anybody. He’s not going to choose a player from the West.

“But it might’ve worked. A lot of guys were cool off of the court, but we didn’t have the same camaraderie [as players now]. We weren’t hanging out at each others’ practice facilities in the offseason. It’s just different.”

As for Worthy himself, had he been a captain he would’ve been more willing to dip into the pool of Eastern Conference players more than maybe Magic or Bird would have, although the line would get drawn at drafting any of the Bad Boys to his squad.

“MJ and I played a year at Carolina. I definitely would go after him, although he probably wouldn’t have been there after I went after Magic,” Worthy said. “But I definitely would’ve gone after some guys that I liked over the years. In the 80s? There was guys like Sidney Moncrief, who I admired. He was a defensive genius. A workaholic who played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Guys like that. Bernard King was one of my favorite players. He was tough to guard. So, I definitely would’ve gone after some non-Western Conference players. There were players that were well respected in both conferences that you hated playing against them but you wouldn’t have minded having on your team.

“I wouldn’t have chosen Larry Bird. That’s a no, right off the bat. I always wanted to play against him. Bill Laimbeer, no go. That’s about it. I’m sure there are some others. I wouldn’t have wanted to play with…Dennis Rodman I wouldn’t have chose. The Bad Boys, I always liked playing against that kind of energy. But there are a few.”

Imagining the All-Star draft in past eras is a fascinating exercise, because of the personal relationships put on the line by having to choose from a small pool of players for your squad. This year, it becomes a reality, which is great, but until the draft is made an event (as it should be) we won’t really get the full entertainment value of it all and the league might not see the full benefit of what it could do for excitement around the game itself.