ONTARIO -- Chaffey Joint Union High School District teachers and staff got cheered on for the start of the new school year by someone more used to being on the receiving end of accolades: "Showtime" Lakers star James Worthy, who spoke at the district's back-to-school rally on Monday.

Named by the NBA in 1996 as one of the league's 50 greatest players, "Big Game James" Worthy was a seven-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion. He played for the Lakers from 1982 to 1994.

"It's just an amazing privilege to be amongst -- it's the teachers I'm talking to right now -- the real heroes of our time," Worthy told the packed Chaffey High School auditorium Monday morning.

"I know all of you care; that's why you're here," Worthy said. "Valuable, valuable asset that you are, I just wanted to come here and thank you."

Although he left the University of North Carolina after his junior year to enter the NBA draft, his mother, Gladys, wouldn't let the rising star off the hook about his degree:

"My mom made me sign a clause in my NBA contract that said if I didn't finish (college) by 1985, I had to give the NBA $100,000 of their money back," he said. "I finished by 1985."

His mother, a teacher's aide, had previously pulled him off the basketball team in middle school when he brought home a failing report card.

Even without Worthy's presence, it was a high-energy rally, featuring musical and dance numbers and Superintendent Mat Holton presiding over a ceremony highlighting the district's accomplishments in the 2012-13 school year and the events of the year to come.

"The things we accomplished last year will go down in the history of this district," Holton said, including the high-school-only district graduating the most students and having the highest graduation rate in its 131-year history.

The district also saw a big uptick in the number students qualifying for a four-year college last year: 40 percent, up from 22 percent six years before. The district also had 859 students accepted to Cal Poly Pomona last year, up from 459 the year before; the district signed an agreement with the university that students who met the university's requirements would be guaranteed acceptance.

"We are going to change this community," by increasing the number of college graduates in Ontario, Holton said.

The Chaffey district's school year begins Wednesday.

"A new year is upon you," Worthy said. "You have new knuckleheads coming in and old knuckleheads coming back. Good luck and thank you."