In a textile city where the economy has been troubled, Gastonians pigeonholed their personal problems and turned out today to warmly cheer Eric (Sleepy) Floyd and James Worthy, home-grown athletes destined to join the nation's financial elite.
When Georgetown's Floyd, North Carolina's Worthy and their families lunched at the head table as honored guests at the Gastonia Country Club, they accepted the honor graciously. It was their day in their home town.
Worthy, the 1982 NCAA championship game's most valuable player, announced earlier this month that he will forgo his senior season to participate in the June 29 NBA draft, probably as the No. 1 pick. Floyd, who graduates Sunday from Georgetown, is certain to be an early NBA choice.
But it was Gastonia's uninhibited pride in past endeavers, not earning potential, that prompted the "Worthy-Floyd Day."
Floyd and Worthy said they treasured the moment, the lingering hospitality. Such happenings are rare. Gastonians can't remember anything like this since 1935, when the American Legion baseball team brought home the world championship. Gastonia always was big on baseball.
The emergence of Floyd and Worthy in basketball was unique. Floyd was a standout at Gastonia Huss High, a year ahead of cross-town rival Worthy, a Gastonia Ashbrook product, the most intensely recruited in-state player since David Thompson.
In New Orleans in March, Georgetown and North Carolina met in the NCAA championship, an epic won by the Tar Heels, 63-62.
Worthy scored 28 points and his theft of an errant Georgetown pass in the final six seconds iced the victory.
"Getting that ball was the most important play of my life," said Worthy, who dribbled time down to two seconds. "It was so unexpected, I almost panicked."
"That game," said Floyd, who scored 18, "was two months ago. Have I gotten over it? I'll never get over it."
But the rivalry was history as the two shook hands with fans, made brief remarks and traded T-shirts: "Go Hoyas" and "Go Heels."
In the morning, Floyd and Worthy visited their former junior high and high schools, dunked a few, rapped with students, briefly offered words of advice. Then came a quick clothing change for the luncheon and a parade, followed by dinner for 700 at the Gastonia YMCA.
Worthy, 6 feet 9, wore a dark blue blazer, light gray pants, a conservative tie. Master of the power dunk, he sat erect, referred to basketball only when asked. Floyd, a slender all-America guard whose comfortable shot-making range is 22 feet, wore a light brown suit. Quite Conservative. "I'll be working on Capitol Hill this summer," said Floyd. "I'll be on the staff of New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici."
The luncheon guests, confined to city officials and those close to the families, included North Carolina Coach Dean Smith. Georgetown Coach John Thompson was unable to attend.