LLOYD FREE was a bigger than life guard for the original Clipper team in San Diego in 1978. This young man was a piece of work and a real genuine original.
Free was born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Brooklyn before attending school at tiny Guilford College in North Carolina. In his freshman season, he led them to the NAIA Championship and would go on to be a second round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1975.
They called him the "Prince of Mid-Air" and "All World" before he legally changed his name to World B. Free.
How did he wind up with the Clippers?
Lloyd was a valuable sixth man for the 76er team that sped to the NBA finals in 1977. The superstars were Julius Erving, George McGinnis and Doug Collins, but Free's consistent double-figure scoring off the bench played a major role in the team' success under highly respected coach Gene Shue. Unfortunately, the Sixers squandered a 2-0 series lead and fell to Bill Walton's Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals.
Oddly enough, Shue would be named the Clipper's first coach in San Diego in the summer of 1978. He realized only a couple of days into his first training camp that his team needed more scoring - ideally a back-court running mate for all-star Randy Smith. On October 12, 1978, Shue and General Manager Irv Kaze engineered a seemingly sweet deal with Philadelphia. The Clippers got their scorer in World B. Free and the Sixers got a waaaay down the road first round draft pick slated for 1984.
Free paid immediate dividends. He scored seemingly at will and teamed with Randy Smith, Swen Nater, Nick Weatherspoon and Kermit Washington. That charter Clipper team remained in play-off contention into the final week of the season.
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. World was rapping outside while Sidney Wicks and his wife were dancing elegantly to Sinatra inside. My eclectic tastes in music were born.
One of a Kind
Free had a mind of his own. If there was a contract issue or if he felt he had been unfairly reprimanded by the coach, World would sit out a game with a "phantom" back injury. In his second season in San Diego, he was playing ahead of a young, high-scoring shooting guard who had led college ball in scoring just two years earlier. Freeman Williams had gone to college at Portland State after growing up in Los Angeles. He scored over 10 points a game coming off the bench during his rookie season and it was clear that, like Free, he was born to score.
Well, one night at the old Fairgrounds arena in Phoenix against the Suns, Free had one of those mysterious back problems to protest a move by coach Gene Shue a game earlier. Shue gave Williams the start and he exploded for 51 points! Free's back "ailment" was miraculously cured by the next game.
Regardless, Free was one of the great personalities of the era. In a way, he served as a forerunner of the Shaquille O'Neal NBA persona. He was bigger than life and thus the name change from his given Lloyd to his chosen "World B. Free".
Free would finish second to George Gervin of San Antonio in league scoring in each of his two years in San Diego. During the 1979-80 season, he averaged over 30 points a game and was named All-NBA Second Team. There is no question that Free was very, very good.
Safe to say he never saw a shot he didn't like, but he shot very well as a guard for the Clippers: 48 percent one year and 47.4 percent the other. He also got to the free throw line 10+ times a game in both seasons - the guy was a scorer! He averaged over 20 points a game in eight-straight NBA seasons and was an All-Star and an All-NBA second team selection for the 1978-79 season.
I should mention that the way down the road first round pick surrendered for Free in 1978 was used by Philadelphia in 1984 to draft Hall of Famer Charles Barkley with the fifth selection.
World is still active. He work for the Sixers in Philadelphia as the team's Goodwill Ambassador. He remains an iconic figure in one of the great sports cities in the country.