World B. Free, NBA Gunner December 15, 1980

March 08, 1999

He had always been a showman, so it was no surprise when the
basketball player formerly known as Lloyd went for the flashy
finish. Playing in a New York City legends tournament in the
fall of 1997, World B. Free, then 43, found himself alone on a
breakaway. Boring layup or trademark whirling dunk? "With the
game I was having, I was thinking about signing a 10-day [NBA]
contract," he says. "I got my slam off, but the rim knocked me
back and I broke my wrist."

Free, a 6'3" guard, was no less spectacular in his 13 seasons
with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, Golden State
Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets between
1975-76 and '87-88. He averaged 20.3 points and reveled in his
image as a skywalking, jive-talking hot dog. He was a pioneer of
the 360-degree dunk and the high-arching outside shot. "I was
the original gunner because my shot, my rainbow, looked so
different," says Free. "I made Michael Jordan rich by making it
O.K. to be a showman. I was before my time." He was also one of
the great storytellers in league history. "Need anything else?"
he once told a group of reporters. "If you do, I'll make
something up."

Even his first name. Free legally changed it from Lloyd to World
on Dec. 8, 1981. "Everybody had a nickname in the ghetto," he
said at the time. "My game is my nickname--World." He developed
that game on the blacktop in the Brownsville section of
Brooklyn, learning schoolyard skills with neighborhood legends
Fly Williams and Phil Sellers. Free took Canarsie High to two
New York City titles before heading to Guilford College in
Greensboro, N.C., and leading the Quakers to the '73 NAIA
national championship. He was named to the NAIA's
golden-anniversary team in '87 and was inducted into the New
York City Basketball Hall of Fame in '97. He still feels the
sting, however, of being passed over for the NBA's
50th-anniversary team. "Me and Bob McAdoo, we deserved to be on
it," he says. "But if I could do it over, I'd do it the same
way. Besides, I'm happy with my place in life now."

Free has worked for the 76ers since 1994 and is currently
Philly's community-relations representative. Part of his job is
to give clinics and talks to youth groups. "What I do now is
like my biggest shot in a game," says Free. "I feel such
satisfaction. When I first started going to places, the kids had
no clue who I was. But I bring a tape from when I played, and we
have a ball watching it. When I was young, nobody of my
magnitude dropped by. Mom and Pop kept me going, but I never had
a celebrity come down to give a glimmer of hope. I just want to
give back."

--Paul Gutierrez

COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS

"I made Jordan rich by making it O.K. to be a showman. I was
before my time."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)