On this day in 1980, World B. Free became the first Clipper to play in an All-Star game, after averaging 31.4 points per game across the first half of the 1979-80 season. However, despite a stellar career that featured an All-NBA Second team selection, a trip to the NBA Finals and eight seasons with scoring averages in excess of 20 points, the act for which Free is most famous did not occur on a basketball court. Instead, it took place in an office somewhere in California.
By Mick Minas
World B. Free was born Lloyd Free and he grew up in Brooklyn, where he developed his love for the game of basketball and learned his distinctive, high-arcing shooting technique by imitating his older brother. By the time Free was 16 years old, he was already well known throughout the playgrounds of New York City for his rainbow jump shot and his ability to throw down spectacular dunks. It was during these formative years that the idea to change his name from Lloyd to World first emerged.
Herb Smith, one of the Brownsville locals who hung around the playgrounds, was renowned for handing out nicknames to players whom he believed were worthy of such an honor. During one blacktop session, Free used a 360 degree mid-air spin to evade a defender who was trying to block his shot, before completing the play with a vicious slam dunk. Smith witnessed this gravity-defying display and decided to bestow the name of “World” on Free because the pirouette reminded him of the earth’s rotation. Free promised Smith that he would legally change his first name to World if he ever made it to the pros. So, after waiting a few seasons to establish himself in the NBA, Free coughed up the required fee of a few hundred dollars, filled out the necessary paperwork and officially changed his first name from Lloyd to World. With a middle name of Bernard, he now had the catchy moniker of World B. Free.
However, not everyone was as excited about Free’s new name. During his first post-Lloyd year, Free was in Dallas for a game against the Mavericks and when the starters were announced, he was stunned to hear his name read out as “Lloyd Free”. Unhappy about this perceived lack of respect, he elected not to run out on the court with the rest of the starting five and instead remained seated on the bench. From that night onwards, Free always tried to save his best performances for when he visited Dallas, as a form of payback for this slight.
It was not only court announcers who tried to get under Free’s skin, with opposition players also deliberately calling him “Lloyd” during games in an attempt to try and annoy him. Norm Nixon, who was playing for the Lakers at the time, loved to distract Free by deliberately using the wrong name when the two guards clashed. “He threw my game off the first time I played him,” said Free, “because I thought he didn’t have a TV to realize that I changed my name to World.” Free claimed that he was not fazed by this form of gamesmanship, saying that every time opponents tried to badger him by using the wrong name, it simply added another ten points onto his scoring total for the game. Eventually the new name stuck, making World B. Free two decades ahead of Metta World Peace in the re-branding game.
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