Bill Sharman, 87; Celtics Hall of Famer, later a Hall of Fame coach
NEW YORK — Bill Sharman, who was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame twice, first as a sharpshooting guard who helped establish the Boston Celtics dynasty in the 1950s and then as the coach who led the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers to a record 33-game winning streak and the NBA title, died Friday at his home in Redondo Beach, Calif. He was 87.
A perfectionist as both player and coach, Mr. 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.
For 10 seasons beginning in fall 1951, Mr. Sharman teamed with the playmaking guard Bob Cousy to form one of the NBA’s legendary backcourts. A premier shooter at 6-foot-1 who knew how to get open to receive Cousy’s creative passes, Mr. Sharman annually finished among the league leaders in field goal percentage. He led the Celtics in scoring four times, including in 1956-57, the season Bill Russell joined the lineup and the team won its first National Basketball Association title.
Mr. Sharman was also one of the NBA’s best free-throw shooters. He led the league a record seven times, including five seasons in a row, also a record.
A perennial all-star who was with the Celtics when they won four NBA titles, Mr. Sharman was elected to the Hall of Fame as a player in 1976. On the NBA’s 50th anniversary in 1996, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in league history.
“He deserves the ultimate accolade: He was a winner,” his Celtics teammate Tommy Heinsohn said in 2007. “He was an incredible athlete, a great competitor, a tenacious defender, and a terrific offensive player.”
Mr. Sharman made the transition to coaching immediately after retiring from the Celtics at the end of the 1960-61 season, leading the Cleveland Pipers (owned by a young George Steinbrenner) to the championship of the upstart American Basketball League.
When the ABL folded at the end of the season, Mr. Sharman became the coach of Los Angeles State (now California State University Los Angeles). He rejoined the NBA in 1966 with the San Francisco Warriors, and two years later became coach of the woeful Los Angeles Stars of the American Basketball Association. He turned them around and took the team, which had moved to Utah, to the ABA title in 1971. He was named coach of the year.
Mr. Sharman returned to the NBA in the fall of 1971 to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, perennial bridesmaids as losers of seven of the previous 10 league finals. Perhaps it took a former Celtic to teach the talented Lakers how to put it all together, or so it seemed when Los Angeles went unbeaten for two full months near the beginning of the season, winning 33 straight games.
With Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, the Lakers continued their winning ways, finishing 69-13, the best record in league history until the Chicago Bulls won 72 games in 1995-96. The Lakers waltzed through the playoffs and defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the finals to win their first NBA championship in Los Angeles.
Mr. Sharman was named coach of the year, making him the only coach in professional basketball history to win the honor in three leagues.
He made only one other appearance in the NBA Finals, losing the next year to the Knicks, before retiring from coaching at the end of the 1975-76 season and becoming the Lakers’ general manager. He became president in 1983 and retired from that post in 1990. His NBA coaching record was 333-240.
Mr. Sharman was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame for the second time in 2004, becoming only the third inductee — John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens are the other two — to be voted in as both a player and a coach.
“Bill Sharman was as competitive a guy as you’d ever want to play against,” said West, whose rookie season coincided with Mr. Sharman’s final year with the Celtics. “As a coach, he had a great way with players and people; I rarely saw him get upset. His years coaching the Lakers were probably the happiest of my playing career.”
William Walton Sharman was born May 25, 1926, in Abilene, Texas. He moved with his family to California as a child and attended the University of Southern California, where he was a two-time All-American. He also starred in baseball and was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing in their organization throughout the first half of the 1950s.
In addition to his wife, Joyce, Mr. Sharman leaves two sons, Jerry and Tom; two daughters, Nancy Scott and Janice Hand; six grand- children; and 10 great- grandchildren.
Mr. Sharman invented the shoot-around as a way to burn off nervous energy on game days. Starting in the middle of his playing career, he would go to a neighborhood gym in the morning to dribble and take shots, finding that it helped him feel more confident that evening.
He brought the shoot-around with him to his first coaching jobs in the ABL and ABA, but many predicted that the concept would not work in the NBA, especially with a team of veteran stars like the Lakers.
Mr. Sharman proved the critics wrong, as the Lakers — even Chamberlain — took to the 40-minute morning workouts and cited them as an important element in the team’s success.
After the Lakers won the championship in 1972, every team in the league added the shoot-around to its game-day regimen.