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It's Time to Shrine for Sharman Again

Already in the Hall of Fame as a player, today he joins Wooden and Wilkens as the third to be inducted as a coach as well.

September 10, 2004|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Bill Sharman never knew why he was so competitive, he just knew that he was.

"When I first went to school and began playing marbles, I couldn't stand to lose," he said. "I just had to win all the marbles. My mother complained that I had marbles in drawers all over the house."

That competitiveness led to an athletic career that landed him in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976.

And that competitiveness led to a coaching career that puts him in elite company.

Sharman, 78, the only coach to win championships in three professional leagues, including one with the Lakers in 1972, will become only the third person to make the Hall of Fame as a player and a coach when he is inducted today at Springfield, Mass.

The others are John Wooden, who went in as a player in 1960 and as a coach in 1973, and Lenny Wilkens, classes of 1989 and '98.

Bob Cousy, Sharman's backcourt mate with the Boston Celtics, calls Sharman one of the fiercest competitors he has ever seen.

For those who know Sharman, it is hard to imagine him as fierce. He is the ultimate gentleman, polite and humble. He not only signs autographs, he thanks fans for asking.

"I think we all go through a little Jekyll and Hyde," Cousy said. "I'm not as nice a guy as Bill -- he's a real sweetheart. But on the court you couldn't find a more intense, focused, ready-to-fight-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kind of guy."

Sharman, who grew up in Lomita, attended Narbonne High as a freshman, then moved to Porterville with his parents during his sophomore year.

At Porterville High, he starred in football, basketball, baseball, tennis and track and field.

"Bill Sharman may have been the best all-around athlete to ever come out of the state of California," longtime ABC announcer Keith Jackson said.

After a stint in the Navy, Sharman attended USC, where he was an All-American and Pacific Coast Conference player of the year in both his junior and senior seasons. He was the first basketball player to be inducted into the USC Hall of Fame. And he was good enough in baseball to be drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. He played professional baseball for five years.

But basketball became Sharman's primary sport. He was drafted by the NBA's Washington Capitols and spent one season with that team. Then came a 10-year run with the Celtics, during which he made eight All-Star teams, won four championships, was named most valuable player of the 1955 NBA All-Star game, and set free throw records, some of which still stand.

During the NBA's 50th anniversary season, 1996-97, Sharman was named one of the league's 50 greatest players.

In 1961, he retired as a player and began his coaching career. He started out with an American Basketball League team in Los Angeles, the Jets. But they soon folded, and a young owner of the ABL team in Cleveland, the Pipers, hired Sharman.

Sharman led the Pipers to the 1962 ABL championship, which helped the young owner, George Steinbrenner, decide that being involved in sports was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

After Sharman was voted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in April, Steinbrenner sent along a note.

"I often wondered, as you progressed along the great heights that you have in basketball, whether you ever remember the old Pipers and our days together," Steinbrenner wrote. "You always were a winner and you're still a winner. You were and always will be considered a great friend."

After one season in the ABL, Sharman coached at what was then L.A. State for two years. Then, after a brief stint in broadcasting, he coached the San Francisco Warriors for two seasons. He became coach of the Los Angeles Stars of the American Basketball Assn. in 1968. The Stars, after moving to Utah, won the ABA championship in 1971.

After that season, attorney Ed Hookstratten, who had been a baseball teammate of Sharman's at USC, worked out a deal with owner Jack Kent Cooke that brought Sharman to the Lakers.

In Sharman's first season with the Lakers, they not only won the NBA championship, their first in L.A., but set an NBA record that still stands, winning 33 consecutive games.

Sharman developed a bad case of laryngitis late in that season and his voice progressively got worse until he eventually had to quit coaching in 1976. He became the Lakers' general manager and was the engineer of the 1980 Showtime teams featuring Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Still, the voice problems lingered, making it difficult to do his job. Owner Jerry Buss promoted Sharman to team president in 1982, and he retired from that position in 1988.

The voice is better now, and Sharman has remained with the Lakers as a special consultant.

In all, as a player, coach, general manager and consultant, he has earned 15 championship rings. No other former player has nearly that many. Former Celtic teammate Bill Russell has 11.

At today's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Sharman will be introduced by Wooden, Cousy and Jerry West in taped segments.

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