PALOS VERDES, Calif. — It was an absolutely beautiful day on the Palos Verdes peninsula as a memorial service/celebration of life was held for former Lakers coach and two-time Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Sharman on Saturday.
Sharman passed away Oct. 25, following a stroke the previous week.
The 87-year-old holds the record for most championship rings earned by a player, coach, general manager, team president and consultant with 17. Add his two Hall-of-Fame rings, joining John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as the only people to be inducted as a player and a coach, and it brings the total to a staggering 19.
Sharman was also the coach of the first Lakers championship team in Los Angeles, when he guided them to a 69-13 regular-season record, including a record 33-game winning streak that included two calendar months without ever tasting defeat.
While Sharman was known for his basketball innovations such as the morning shootaround and extensive use of 8mm film study to break down games and draft choices, it was Sharman the man who was celebrated on Saturday.
I knew Sharman for nearly four decades and I never heard anyone say anything negative about the former Celtics great. In fact, his last sign of generosity, along with wife Joyce, was to set up a raffle of his 2010 Lakers championship ring to benefit various charities, such as: Toberman Neighborhood Center, Angel’s Nest, Public Counsel, James Worthy Foundation, Lakers Youth Foundation, Providence TrinityCare Hospice Foundation, West Coast Sports Medicine Foundation and Xcel University. Click here for more information.
Sharman’s celebration of life was a memorable affair, with a who’s who of the athletic and entertainment world in attendance, such as Jerry West. Also in attendance was Miami Heat president and former Lakers coach Pat Riley; current Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and former Lakers Bill Bertka and James Worthy. From the entertainment world music mogul Lou Adler, who you see sitting next to Jack Nicholson during most Lakers games, was there. Activist Ron Kovic, the inspiration for the Oliver Stone/Tom Cruise movie “Born on the Fourth of July” and a close friend of Sharman’s was also on hand.
The following are some comments about the life of Sharman. A life of achievement and a life of giving back:
Worthy: “He was a very kind, helpful and generous man and even today it’s hard to believe all his accomplishments. It’s mind-boggling what this man did, not only in the game of basketball but in life as well.
“And while Bill was one of the humblest men you’ll ever meet, he was also tough. You don’t have as much success as he did without being tough as nails. And he was so smart. I could go into his office just to say hello and I’d come out later with an education in life. He’d talk to me about finances, my personal life and just about anything else, and I always learned something from Bill.
“I’m going to miss him very much.”
Kovic: “Bill was always so down to earth, so supportive and so encouraging. I think the best thing I can say from my perspective is that he was my friend. In the end he was my friend, a good and decent man. A true, true friend.
“I was with Bill in the hospital after he had the stroke, two days before he died, and he showed he still had that great sense of humor, kidding around with us, the nurses and his wife Joyce. It’s been a very tough week for all of us, but we’re glad we had him in our lives.”
“He was a wonderful man.”
Riley: “This really is tough. We’re all getting older and when a good friend and good man like Bill passes away, it just shows that you’ve got a limited amount of time here and you need to use it in the best way possible. Bill certainly did.”
Bertka:”You really have to take a look at how many lives he touched. For me, he gave me a career in the NBA. He hired me to scout, watch film, which wasn’t really done much in those days. One of his great qualities is his open-mindedness. Before he came to the Lakers in 1971-72, no teams had assistant coaches. It was just the head coach and the trainer on the bench. Well, Bill came in and hired (longtime Celtic teammate) K.C. Jones, and that started the trend. Heck, with all the assistants teams have now, there’s almost as many coaches as there are players. He was also a great pro player himself, so nobody was going to question it when he decided to implement something new.
“If you think about what he did in 1971-72, it was a remarkable job he did. He came in as a new head coach with a great deal of talent, but older talent in Jerry, Wilt (Chamberlain) and Elgin Baylor. It was a team that was picked to barely make the playoffs, yet they got together, ripped off 33 wins in a row, and won the first world championship in Los Angeles. He was an amazing coach and an amazing man.”
Adler: “I go way back with my memories of Bill. I grew up in Los Angeles—in Boyle Heights– and when Bill was at USC I was getting out of junior high school. His one-handed jump shot? We’d never seen it before until we saw Sharman do it, and I tried to emulate everything he ever did on the court and at the free throw line. Then, to finally meet him — it was unreal for me to be able to shake the hand of Bill Sharman.
“Bill was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. When he came to the Lakers, we used to walk out of (The Forum) after nearly every game. There was such warmth there — such genuine warmth — nd we’d talk about the game or anything else that came up. My respect for him as a player and a coach, then to feel him as a human being … it was great.
“From the podium today, someone said ‘Some people just go. Some people never go. They just stay in your heart.’ Bill Sharman was one of those special people to me.”