Celtic Blueprint launches a Forum Blue and Gold legacy

Gatinho —  February 19, 2007

A legend who had his fingertips and fingerprints involved in the launching of two of the NBA’s proudest traditions.

A Trojan, a Dodger, a Celtic, and a Laker.

A man who can say he coached in the philosophy of Auerbach, under the ownership of Steinbrenner, and as the mentor to Riley.

Bill Sharman’s career began at the University of Southern California where he was, “…extremely pleased and somewhat surprised” to find himself starting as a freshman. (His number 11 was recently retired.) At USC he would also encounter legendary baseball coach Rod Dedeaux, and Sharman would go on to be a part of the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system for five years before focusing exclusively on playing basketball.

He could be considered solely an icon of Southern California sports were it not for his four rings garnered in the nascent stages of the legendary Celtic run that would culminate in 11 titles in 13 years.

Whether being the first guard to shoot over 40% for a season (.436 in 1953) or leading the ’72 Lakers to a seemingly untouchable pro sports record by winning 33 straight games, he instead is known as the man who charmed both franchises with his hard work, commitment to conditioning, and innovative ways.

A sharp shooting, defensive hawk, Sharman was as physical as the game of the times called for him to be. As a 6’1” guard, his finesse game had to be buoyed by his physicality. Sharman’s legendary free throw shooting and efficient floor game have sometimes been overshadowed by his reputation for intimidation. Most of theses stories are directly from the man that bore the brunt of the Celtics domination of the Lakers throughout the ’60’s and the ‘70’s, Jerry West.

“Bill was tough. I’ll tell you this; you did not drive by him. He got into more fights than Mike Tyson. You respected him as a player.”

When I recently corresponded with Mr. Sharman I asked for his reaction to the Logo’s assessment.

“The statements about me fighting were greatly exaggerated… although, there were times I had to ‘hold my own’ against players who were overly aggressive and physical by holding and pushing, etc. In those days you had to establish your rights to defend yourself.”

As his Hall of Fame playing career wound down, he set his eyes on coaching and would embark on the second path that would again lead him to be enshrined and placed in the rarified air of John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as the only double inductees.

His many coaching jobs would leave him well traveled and well decorated. From the Steinbrenner-owned Cleveland Pipers to the San Francisco Warriors to the Los Angeles Stars and finally to the Lakers, Sharman would end being the only coach to win titles in three separate leagues: the ABL, ABA, and NBA. For all intents and purposes he carried that Lucky Celtic shamrock with him wherever he went. He even carried it into Jack Kent Cooke’s newly built Fabulous Forum.

He would feel the same “great pride and great relief” that he felt when winning Boston’s first title as a player when he guided the Lakers to their first title after numerous defeats at the hands of those very Celtics. But Laker fans that were baptized in the ‘80’s at the altar of the Bird-Magic rivalries might be mortified to know that Sharman finally cracked the Lakers into the level of the elite by getting Wilt Chamberlain to do his best Bill Russell imitation by rebounding and outletting the rebound to ignite the developing fast break. Essentially he was using the blueprint provided by Auerbach.

Sharman says about that championship team, “ It (the Lakers style) was similar as I patterned much of my coaching from what we used during such a successful time for the Celtics when I was a player there.”

Getting a man who once scored 100 points in a game to think about rebounding and defense and getting the Dipper to get out of bed before noon on game days were two of the miracles that Sharman performed as Laker coach. It was Sharman who began the league wide practice of the morning shootaround. He would do this during his own playing days as a way to control his nerves and get his mind focused on the evening’s contest. He made a mental note to himself that if he ever were a coach he would institute this for the whole team.

Sharman would continue to exert his expertise as he moved into the Laker’s front office as General Manager (1976-1982) and later president (1982-1990). Sharman is still a special consultant for the Lakers and likes the direction of the team and its young talent. “At 19 years of age, I feel that (Andrew) Bynum has a great future ahead of him, and Kobe’s all-around game has never been better.” Surprisingly, he likes the new rules that limit contact on the perimeter, stating, “…The new rules definitely help the game as it adds more speed and finesse.”

But anyone that looks into Sharman’s past successes as key to a future of winning basketball will notice the common thread. Whether playing with the Celtics of Cousy, and Russell or coaching the Lakers of West and Chamberlain, the unifying factor was always players sacrificing for the greater goals of the team.

-Scott A. Thompson aka Gatinho

Some information comes from Roland Lazenby’s book, The Show

Bill and his wife Joyce support Toberman Settlement House.