The side of James Worthy that everyone sees:
Virginia versus North Carolina, the last four minutes. Cavaliers lead by one, Tar Heels have the ball. Worthy, his face a mask of tension, pushes for position inside and finally plants himself 10 feet out on the left side and calls for the ball. Matt Doherty sees him and gets the ball to him. Worthy clamps it, puts it on the floor twice, picks it up, turns and shoots.
"When the game is on the line," Coach Dean Smith will say later, "James is a man inside."
Certainly, Worthy looks and sounds like a man. At 6-feet-8 1/2 inches and 219 pounds he also has the look of a granite block. When a call goes against him his eyes quickly flash anger. When he speaks it is in a deep baritone, his modulated tones giving his words the same kind of power his inside moves give his game. His closely cropped beard, allowed by Smith because Worthy has a skin condition that makes shaving painful, adds to The Look.
"He can look menacing," says Smith.
It is an image Worthy is comfortable with.
"What would I tell a friend who had to play against him?" says Doherty. "I'd tell him, 'I feel sorry for you.' "
He played his entire sophomore season with three two-inch nails and a six-inch rod in his right ankle. He played in pain every game, agony in cold or wet weather. But he played.
No one has ever questioned James Worthy's toughness.
The side of James Worthy people rarely see:
The winter of 1979, Worthy's senior year in high school. He is visiting Michigan State for the weekend. At home in Gastonia, N.C., Ervin Worthy, his father, picks up the phone.
"Hello Mr. Worthy," the caller says, "this is Dean Smith, I just wanted to check and see how James is enjoying his visit to Michigan State."
Ervin Worthy is not surprised that Smith is calling. He has made it clear all year that he wants James at North Carolina.
"Well Coach Smith," Ervin Worthy says, "I guess he's enjoying it just fine."
"Of course," the caller says, "we don't want him to enjoy it too much."
Ervin Worthy laughs at that. "I understand how you feel," he says.
"Hey pop," the caller says, bursting into laughter, "how you doing?"
It was James Worthy, imitating Dean Smith and, according to Ervin Worthy, doing it well.
"He won't do it for me," Smith says. Worthy won't do it for strangers, either. "My voice has changed," he says, the stern look on his face.
One other side of James Worthy:
"Freshman year, I had this professor. If I stayed up all night and wrote a paper, I got a C. If I worked on the paper two days, I got a C. If I worked on it all week, I got a C.
"I really believed it didn't matter what I wrote, that she had me stereotyped because I was an athlete."
Although Worthy is going to play professional basketball--NBA scouts say if he passed up his final year of college he would be one of the first five players drafted--he knows there is life beyond the court. He knows what it is like to fear that your playing days are over. And someday, he would like to work in counseling, either with the aging or the mentally retarded. He has worked the last two summers with each.
So, when he found himself getting Cs he didn't think he deserved, Worthy spoke with the professor. "She showed me where she thought I had made mistakes," he said. "She was nice about it. But still it bothers me."
In six months Worthy may be a millionaire. But he worries about being stereotyped by professors.
Right now, Worthy is riding the crest, part of a team that is beginning to look as if it is the best Smith has had in 21 years at Carolina. Smith has always had talent on his teams; six final four appearances are testimony to that fact.
But this group, specifically this starting five, has a unique chemistry. The Tar Heels are 12-0, their best start since 1957, Carolina's only national championship year.
"We all know what our roles are," Doherty said. "James and Sam Perkins are our scorers inside, Jimmy Black runs the offense, Michael Jordan is our shooting guard and I just try to keep everybody else happy."
Worthy is the dominant force. "He does so many things well," Black said. "James is a great passer. He isn't just a shooter."
"He may be our fastest player," Smith said. "When James came here we knew he was a great talent, everybody knew that. Our job was to take that talent and make him a productive player."
Worthy began playing basketball when he was very young, dragged to the gym by his two older brothers, both of whom played the game. When Worthy was 9 a new Boys' Club opened in his neighborhood. For 18 months, there were no baskets in the gym.
"But we loved to play, at least I did," Worthy said. "So we would play all sorts of passing and dribbling games, keep-away, stuff like that. We did it for hours."
That may explain why Worthy handles the ball so well today, why one ACC assistant coach said recently that, "He has the best off (left) hand in the college game."
Worthy played football and baseball in addition to basketball in junior high school. But he wasn't big enough to play defensive end and was afraid of being hit by a pitch. Between seventh and eight grades he grew from 6 feet to 6-7. Basketball was his game from then on.
"He always loved basketball, even when he was little," Ervin Worthy said. "I can remember him watching games on TV and bragging to his friends about what a great coach Dean Smith was."
But that is not Ervin Worthy's most vivid memory of his son's boyhood. "What I remember most clearly was sitting at the dining room table one night and looking at all my bills," he said. "My two older sons were at N.C. Central, my wife was in school, too. I said, 'I just don't know how I'm going to pay all these bills.'
"James was in the next room. He came in and said to me, 'Daddy, when I go to college you won't worry about having to pay for me because I'm going to get a scholarship.' "
Worthy could have had the scholarship he promised his father any place in the country. But there was little doubt in his mind about where he wanted to go. From the beginning, UNC was the place.
"It was just something I'd always dreamed about doing," he said.
The dream was moving along nicely through 14 games. Worthy was a starter right away, an honor Smith previously accorded only to Phil Ford and Mike O'Koren. He was averaging 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game when Maryland came to town on Super Bowl Sunday.
"I was going down court, pretty much all alone. I saw someone (Greg Manning) coming over as if to try to take a charge. I was trying to make a quick cut and something just gave."
From the foul line, Worthy went flying. He landed beyond the base line and did not get up. "The pain was unbelievable. I had sprained my ankle before but this was different. I knew it was gone."
Broken in two places plus torn ligaments. Worthy's season was over. The next day he was operated on and three two-inch screws and a six-inch metal rod were inserted. The pain was so bad he was given sedation for two weeks.
"I was groggy almost the whole time so I didn't really have much chance to think about what was going on at first. When I did, I was upset and a little scared. But my parents were there with me. They got me through it."
Ervin Worthy was shaken by what happened. He is deeply religious and he had talked to his pastor before going to see his son play that Sunday because he thought perhaps he shouldn't be there on the Sabbath.
"He told me to go because it was my son," Worthy said. "When I got there I looked around and saw 10,000 people and probably not many of them had been to church that day. And then James got hurt when he was all alone and just slipped."
Ervin Worthy later talked to Smith about the possibility of Carolina not playing Sunday games in the future. But with his son hurt, he did not express those concerns to him.
Worthy came back last season and played, in pain. Although playing without a lot of his mobility, Worthy averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game and was second team all-ACC. "You couldn't tell watching him that he was able to do less things," Black said. "But you could tell he was in pain."
Worthy fought the pain all season. In June, the screws and the rod came out. He kept them as a souvenier. Now, he says he feels reborn on the court. "I have my flexibility back, I can make cuts and moves I used to take for granted before I got hurt," he said. "I feel blessed."
Most important, according to Smith, Worthy is working harder. Smith has always been tough on Worthy in practice, jumping on him about careless passes.
"James has always been able to have the 11-assist, 10-turnover game like Magic Johnson used to have," Smith said. "We don't want that. We want more ordinary passes."
Gradually, Worthy is learning that. As a freshman he had 48 turnovers and 27 assists. Last year he had 111 turnovers and 100 assists. This year, for the first time, he has more assists (35) than turnovers (30).
Good as he has become, Smith thinks Worthy will do better in the pros. "In an up and down game, without the zone defenses, he'll be great," Smith said.
Both Smith and his father have talked with Worthy about the temptations he is going to face at the end of this season. Worthy says if he believed he might be one of the first players drafted he would sit down and talk to Smith about it. But for now, he isn't worrying about that part of his future.
"It will definitely be part of my future, I hope it will give me job security," he said. "But right now, I'm just worried about trying to improve my game."
That's the side of James Worthy more and more people are going to notice between now and March 29.