Bill Sharman

 —  March 4, 2005

Bill Sharman didn’t like to lose.

Jerry West tells a story from his rookie season where he came down and hit six consecutive shots against Sharman, a Celtic. On the seventh, Sharman took a swing at West. The punch missed but the message had been sent, and West was far more cautious around Sharman the rest of the game.

He brought that same intensity to the bench as a coach for the first Laker championship team in Los Angeles. Sharman will be honored tonight at halftime of the Lakers/Maverick’s game.

The Lakers had been to the finals and lost seven times when Sharman took over as coach for the 1971-72 season. This was a team that had West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillian and Happy Hairston as a starting lineup. That talent was there but it needed a push to get over the hump. (Sound familiar, like maybe the 1999-2000 Lakers?)

With Sharman at the helm the Lakers had maybe their best team ever. They won 33 in a row at one point and finished 69-13 on their way to an NBA title (losing only one game in the playoffs).

The next season, the Lakers reached the finals again, only to lose to the Willis Reed-led New York Knicks. Then Chamberlain retired, followed in a couple of years by West, but the Lakers were still constantly not only making the playoffs but also winning rounds.

In 1976 Sharman left the Laker bench and moved upstairs to become general manager. Almost immediately he helped arrange an controversial deal that allowed an unhappy Goodrich to sign with the New Orleans Jazz for several draft picks, including a first round pick in 1979. That pick turned out to be Magic Johnson, setting the table for the run of titles in the 1980s.

He was the GM for the 1980 and 1982 titles, before turning that job over to West and taking on the role of team president. He held that job through 1988, when he finally stepped back from the game (although he remained on as a consultant).

When you look at the lack of direction the team is currently experiencing, you realize just what Sharman helped bring to the organization. And you wish he and those days weren’t gone.