More than a name: A look back at World B. Free’s brilliant career

OAKLAND, CA - CIRCA 1980: World B. Free
OAKLAND, CA - CIRCA 1980: World B. Free /

Though certainly remembered more for his phenomenal name than his play on the court, World B. Free was one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers in the late 1970s and on into the early ‘80s.

A gold chain hanging around his neck, and sharp sideburns streaking down the side of his face, Free–and the trademark jumper he launched from behind his head–was a joy to watch, and nearly impossible to stop once he got going. He finished his career with a scoring average of 20.3 points per game, but during his peak, from 1978 until 1986, he averaged 24.7 points a night, and finished in the top 15 in scoring in each of those eight seasons.

Early in his career, Free played an important role off the bench for some great Philadelphia 76er teams–including the 1976-77 team which went to the Finals. His two finest seasons from a personal standpoint, however, came while he was playing down in San Diego with the Clippers (before they moved) from 1978-80.

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In 1978-79, he made his only appearance on an All-NBA team, as he was named to the All-NBA Second Team along with Phil Ford, Walter Davis, Bob Dandridge, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His 28.8 points per game that season put him second in the league behind “The Iceman” George Gervin.

The next year, he made his first and only trip to the All-Star Game, scoring 14 points and handing out 5 assists as the Western Conference lost in overtime. He managed to raise his scoring to an incredible 30.2 points a night that year, but once again came in just behind Gervin in the race for the scoring title.

His single game career high of 49 points was a feat he accomplished twice, and he ended his career with 16 40-point games, good for 48th most all-time. He currently sits 68th on the all-time scoring list, with 17,955 points.

With his run-and-gun style, contagious personality, and a sweet nickname (Prince of Mid-Air), Free certainly would have been a #BasketballTwitter hero if he played today. With his sharp perimeter shot, he also could have been an even more deadly scorer if he played in such a three-point happy era, but alas.

In honor of his 63rd birthday today let’s take a look back at some great moments–both on and off the court–from Free’s career.

Mix In My Mind: World B. Free x James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing”

Why Free changed his name from Lloyd to World:

“I decided to do it when I was with the Golden State Warriors (1981-82 season). At first, the NBA and people thought it was a “self proclaimed” name. That name was given to me from the streets of Brooklyn, in the Brownsville section, for being one of the talents from there they thought might have a chance to make it in the NBA.”

He once bet Daryl Dawkins $100 to drink a container of spicy Chinese mustard:

Free had some skills on the mic:

Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, the first commercially successful rap song, didn’t come out until 1979, but according to longtime Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler, Free was spitting some rhymes a year earlier.

“I had never heard of Rap music in 1978. I’d certainly never listened to it. That all changed at a Clipper Christmas party at Coach Shue’s home in December of 1978. There was a microphone and small stage set up in the backyard. It was not long before Free was introducing us to his brand of rap.”

Free helped saved basketball in Cleveland:

“I remember when I was first traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they had like 1,500 people, fans, at the Richfield Coliseum [for games] because the franchise was in turmoil. And they were getting ready to sell the franchise to some other city, and I was a big part of helping them keep basketball alive in the city of Cleveland. I was one of the guys who was a big part of that, and that’s always stuck with me. It’s also probably one of the longer tenured teams I’ve stayed with in my career.”

“Then when we made the playoffs that year [1984-85] with George Karl [as coach], then the fans started to turn out. It was unbelievable. It went from 1,500 to sellout crowds with the playoff appearance that year. It brought basketball back to Cleveland.”

“So when they won it, I felt a part of that. Even though I had nothing to do with them winning the championship [this season], I feel like I played a big part in keeping the team in the city.”

Oh, and by the way he trusts the process:

“Sam Hinkie put this franchise in a good position with what he did.”