Life in the Gig Economy tells the stories of workers in an industry millions of people rely upon. If you’d like to share your story, email staff writer Jessica Bursztynsky at Jessicabursz@proton.me.
James Worthy is a 62-years-old sports commentator and analyst who played 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, during which time he won three NBA championships and was named a seven-time All-Star. For the past year, he has been offering fans messages on Cameo. This is what the experience has been like, in James’ own words.
I grew up in a small town in Gastonia, North Carolina, with a population only about 35,000 people at the time. And there wasn’t a lot of options really. The industry was really textile, and a lot of people went to the military after high school. So, for me, basketball became my voice. I was a shy kid, didn’t really talk a lot until I started to play basketball around the seventh grade and I was already pretty tall—about 5’11” in the seventh grade. And between seventh grade and eighth grade, I grew five or six inches, and that’s when basketball began for me.
Especially when I heard the word scholarship. I never knew that you could get a full-ride for playing sports, I just didn’t know anything about that at that age. And when I heard that, I was like, “Oh my goodness, I can eliminate my parents from having to pay for my college,” which would have been a struggle. So, my motivation to play basketball was to get a scholarship. And that happened. And that was it for me. I never thought about anything other than eliminating my parents from having to pay for my college tuition. Everything else after that became pretty much a blessing.
I broke my ankle my freshman year in college, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play like I could. I overcame that and won a national championship my junior year. I was drafted number one by the Lakers, and you know things really have shaped up pretty good as far as my career is concerned. With the Lakers, I won three championships, was a seven-time All-Star and Hall of Famer. I way overextended my dream.
But you have to prepare for life after a professional sports career because it’s not that long. You will be retiring in your mid-thirties, if you’re lucky. So, you really have to start thinking about what it is you you want to do. What is your passion? I was a communication major, and I always wanted to do radio. And being in Los Angeles, I got introduced to radio and television as a broadcaster. So I started to do that in ’96, I believe, and I’ve been doing that ever since. To go along with that, part of my portfolio is public speaking. I have a really interesting career of stories and stories of teamwork—how to build teamwork, how to understand your role, how to solve problems when they come about in order to reach the common goal as a team—so I do some other ventures.
I started doing Cameo about a little over a year ago. I thought it was a great way to connect with fans. Especially someone my age, who has a lot of memories. There are a lot of fans out there that were connected to my era; some of them want to wish someone a happy birthday, or, if it’s a corporate session, we talk about teamwork a little bit. I love the idea that I could make someone feel good with a message. It’s just kept me involved. When you’re doing a cameo, you’re yourself. You’re giving them who you are, and they get to see it upfront and personal; I really enjoy that. I enjoy taking their messages and what they want conveyed and giving a little special twist and making them feel good.
I am averaging anywhere from 5 to 10 Cameos [per week]. I just did 3 (May 28, 2023). I try to get them out as quickly as I can. I really am lucky to say that I’ve got all five-star ratings on all of my Cameos because I enjoy doing it. I spend whatever time is needed; sometimes, because of my schedule, I plan a day to do them, but my Cameo is constant throughout the week.
Usually it’s, “Hello hello hello ‘Big Game’ James Worthy here, and I’m reaching out to John. Hello John. Tom wanted me to reach out to you and wish you a happy 75th birthday. I also understand that you are a huge James Worthy fan. I’d like to thank you for all the support that you’ve given over the years.” Then I might throw in a special memory like, “Remember 1988, back-to-back against the Pistons.”
Sometimes, people are suffering from an illness or surgery and they’re trying to overcome it. With those, I just try to give them some encouragement. I try to convey to them injuries or moments that I’ve had in life that I had to overcome, but the last few sentences are: “You can do it.”
Sometimes, there’s Q&As: People have questions about certain things, and sometimes I throw in stories of how we lost but we were able to reconnect and rebound, and some of the solutions that we used to overcome that. It’s really interesting to formulate teamwork.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.