Former NBA forward Orlando Woolridge, who played for the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Detroit Pistons, died at his parents’ home in Mansfield, La. He was 52.
Woolridge succumbed Thursday night, May 31. He reportedly had been under hospice care for a chronic heart condition.
Woolridge, who had been a star both at Mansfield High School in his hometown and at the University of Notre Dame, was the sixth overall pick in the 1981 draft. He was chosen by the Chicago Bulls and played in the NBA for 13 years.
Woolridge had a chiseled 6-foot-9 body, was very athletic and developed a reputation for throwing down powerful alley-oop dunks. Those who knew him and played with him recalled his enthusiasm and the fact that he always had a smile on his face. But Woolridge also had a problem with substance abuse and was suspended from the NBA during the 1987-88 season. In February, he was arrested for stealing aluminum tubing at a drill site in Louisiana’s DeSoto Parish.
According to “Ball Don’t Lie” blogger, Kelly Dwyer: “Woolridge was one of the more powerful dunkers in NBA history, an impressive leaper with good enough touch to be expected to rank amongst the NBA’s top scorers upon his jump from Notre Dame to the NBA in 1981. Woolridge teamed with Ennis Whatley to form one of the NBA’s earliest go-to alley-oop duos, and he was the leading scorer on the 1983-84 Bulls, the last Bulls team for a decade that did not feature Michael Jordan as its top points per game performer. The self-described ‘black Curt Gowdy’ was an avid outdoorsman and fisherman, and the cousin of NBA Hall of Famer Willis Reed.”
After his NBA career ended in 1994, Woolridge spent two season playing in Italy and later accepted a position as coach of the Los Angeles Sparks of WNBA.
Woolridge is survived by his three children, Zachary, Renaldo (a basketball player with the University of Tennessee) and Tiana; by his parents Mattie and Larnceen; his sister Dr. Vanessa Woolridge Duplessis and brother-in-law Darren Duplessis, and his nephew Nigel Duplessis.