Los Angeles lost one of its greatest sports icons on Friday as Bill Sharman passed away at age 87. Sharman was best known for his basketball work - both as a player with the Celtics and a coach of the Lakers - but was also a Dodgers minor leaguer for five seasons.
Sharman graduated from Narbonne High in Harbor City and was a two-time All-American basketball player at USC. He played outfield and third base from 1950-1953 and 1955 in the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system. His best year was probably in 1953, when he hit .294/342/.470 with 16 home runs in Triple-A St. Paul at age 26.
But baseball was only a part-time sport for Sharman, who played for the Celtics from 1951-1961, made eight All-Star teams, led the league in free throw shooting seven times, and made the Hall of Fame as a player in 1976.
Sharman coached in three spots in five seasons in the NBA and ABA before joining the Lakers in 1971. At that point the Lakers had not won a championship in Los Angeles, but they did in Sharman's first season. They won a then-record 69 games and their 33-game winning streak is still tops in professional sports. One of Sharman's main innovations as coach was the introduction to the morning shootaround. Per the New York Times obit:
A perfectionist as both player and coach, Sharman is also credited with introducing what is now a fixture of the pro and college games: the morning shoot-around, a light game-day workout to loosen up, set strategy and prepare for the evening’s contest.
After his coaching days Sharman was a Lakers executive for many years, including five years as general manager. Among other things, Sharman drafted Magic Johnson in 1979 and one year later traded Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick to the Cavaliers for Butch Lee and a 1982 first-round pick. The Lakers' pick in 1982 ended up first overall and was used to draft James Worthy.
The Lakers released a statement regarding Sharman:
"As our head coach, Bill led us to our first championship in Los Angeles, and he was an important contributor to the 10 championship teams that followed. For the last 34 years, his importance to Dr. Buss and our family, and for the last 42 years to the Lakers organization, cannot be measured in words. His knowledge and passion for the game were unsurpassed, and the Lakers and our fans were beneficiaries of that. Despite his greatness as a player, coach and executive, Bill was one of the sweetest, nicest and most humble people I’ve ever known. He was truly one of a kind. On behalf of our organization, the Buss family, and the entire Lakers family, I send my condolences, prayers and love to Joyce and the Sharman family."
Sharman was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 2004, joining John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as the only three people to be so honored as both a player and a coach.
Just last week, Lakers Nation gave us the top five Sharman moments: