Ex-Lakers coach, Celtics guard Bill Sharman dies at 87

Bill Sharman, who coached the Lakers to their first NBA title in Los Angeles, died Friday. He was 87.

Bill Sharman, an All-Star guard for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s who became coach of the Lakers and led the team to its first NBA championship in Los Angeles in record-setting fashion, died Friday. He was 87.

Sharman, who suffered a stroke last week, died at his home in Redondo Beach, said his wife, Joyce.

Sharman was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and as a coach in 2004, joining John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as the only men honored in both roles, and in 1996 was selected as one of the 50 greatest players of the NBA's first 50 years.

"Today is a sad day for anyone who loves and cares about the Lakers," said Lakers President Jeanie Buss in a statement. "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."

"Bill Sharman was a great man, and I loved him dearly," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak in a statement. "From the time I signed with the team as a free agent in 1981 when Bill was General Manager, he's been a mentor, a work collaborator, and most importantly, a friend. He's meant a great deal to the success of the Lakers and to me personally, and he will be missed terribly. My love and sympathy go to Joyce and Bill’s family."

In the summer of 1971, Jack Kent Cooke hired Sharman to coach the Lakers. Seven times between 1962 and 1970, the Lakers had reached the NBA Finals without winning, losing to the Celtics six times in the championship series.

But with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich anchoring the team, the Lakers won a staggering 33 consecutive games during the 1971-72 season, a U.S. professional sports record. They finished the season 69-13 and defeated the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals.

Sharman coached the Lakers for four more seasons before becoming general manager then team president and special consultant.

Born William Walton Sharman on May 25, 1926, in Abilene, Texas, he grew up in Lomita, Calif., attending Narbonne High School in Harbor City, Calif., before moving to Porterville in California's San Joaquin Valley. He excelled not only in basketball but football, baseball, tennis, track and boxing.

He served in the Navy then became a two-time All-American and Pacific Coast Conference basketball player of the year at USC.

A good enough outfielder to have been drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, he played professional baseball for five years. Called up to the major leagues at the end of the 1951 season, he watched from the dugout as Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit the "shot heard 'round the world," beating the Dodgers in a playoff for the National League pennant.

But Sharman, to his regret, never made it as a major leaguer. Basketball was his forte. Originally drafted by the Washington Capitols, he became an eight-time All-Star with the Celtics, averaging 17.8 points a game and winning four titles during an 11-year NBA playing career.

As a player, Sharman may be remembered most for his uncanny free throw shooting. He made 88.3 percent of his free throws, seven times leading the league in free throw percentage.

"Bill Sharman with the basketball at the free throw line was a sports work of art," Jim Murray, the late Times columnist, wrote in 1994. "Ruth with a fastball, Cobb with a base open. Dempsey with his man on the ropes. Hogan with a long par three. Jones with a short putt. Caruso with a high C. Hope in a 'Road' movie. Shoemaker on the favorite. Sinatra with Gershwin.

"When it was Sharman at the line, the next sound you heard was swish! It was as foregone as the sun setting."

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