Orlando was magic.
Fifty-two is no age. On May 31st the Lakers family lost one of its fondest members after his long battle with heart disease. Orlando was more than flash dunker. He was more than the guy with the cool name. He was more than just a journeyman, although never played for the Magic but did play alongside Earvin. He was a truly great player, and let’s remember him as such.
Born in Louisiana, Woolridge took his college game to Notre Dame and the Cinderella halls of the Final Four, where March Madness and teammate (and future fellow Piston in Detroit) Bill Laimbeer got to see just how crazy his dunks where. Although Orlando never cut down nets, he did hold the scissors and the fall away jumper that snipped Virginia’s 28-game winning streak in 1981.
The pros and the Bulls followed, where Woolridge was drafted by Chicago together with some kid named Jordan. Together, the two dunk contest darlings wowed lay-up lines with their athletic slams and highlight worthy dunks. This number six draft choice showed he was much more than his jersey number of zero. From nothing to everything, Woolridge really showed the Association he was truly something. ‘Ridge and Michael Jordan in their rookie years showed their gifts were more than just above the rim, as they downed a combined 51 points per game average.
This 22.9 point average from the open floor specialist led to him being courted by the Nets, but just like Brooklyn he wasn’t in New Jersey for long. His Hollywood skill and bright light dunks where worthy of more ‘Showtime,’ so in the late eighties he joined the greatest show on Earth with Magic Johnson and the purple and golden era Los Angeles Lakers.
Boy did Orlando bring a show to California, too. The scoring off the bench and the defensive assignments is what helped him make the grade as an option, but the freestyle, freewheeling, alley-oop dunks where what brought his teammates and Jack Nicholson-led fans off their seats with his stand-up play. Magic (who expressed sadness over his teammate and friend’s death) and the Lakers loved Orlando, and he loved them right back, once telling the press “I just love it when we go up in the transition game, up and down the court, Magic looking for the open guy … That’s the way I love playing.”
It all played out over two great seasons of sensational basketball work which culminated in a league ranked fifth highest field goal percentage (55.6 percent) in the last season of the eighties and first of the nineties. It was clear that this video star player had substance too, but still beyond the statistics Orlando was a great player off the ball and in the locker room. His presence in L.A. and the cities and country that followed (Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Benetton Treviso and Buckler Bologna of Italy) earned him a great professional and personal reputation that saw him slam home a second career in basketball after playing.
The former microwave bench-warmer heated up the sidelines when he returned to purple and gold Los Angeles to coach the WNBA’s Sparks in the late nineties before becoming in charge of the Rhino’s of Arizona and the ABA to close out the first decade of the new millennium. This player/coaches basketball resume read like a winning application. Woolridge helped both his squads and the ratings of the NBA win over in a time where basketball’s popularity was finally rising due to the tricks of Magic’s trade. Orlando more than played his part in carrying the torch too, and in his passing we should not overlook, or disregard all the little things he’s done that proved to be so big.
Thank you Orlando, and rest peacefully.