By GREG BEACHAM, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bill Sharman effortlessly straddled both sides of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, winning championships and making friends from Boston to Los Angeles during a unique basketball career.
Even when he struggled to speak in his later years with a voice worn out from passionate coaching, Sharman remained a beloved mentor and a hoops innovator who saw great success from almost every perspective in more than a half-century in the NBA.
Sharman, the Hall of Famer who won multiple titles both as a player for the Celtics and a coach for the Lakers, died Friday at his home in Redondo Beach, the Lakers announced. He was 87.
Sharman played major roles on both sides of the rivalry as a smooth shooting guard, a disciplinarian coach and a successful executive from the Celtics dynasty's founding years to the Lakers' Showtime heyday and beyond. He is also credited with pioneering or promoting now-standard basketball concepts such as the shootaround, pregame scouting reports and extensive use of assistant coaches.
"Bill Sharman was, without a doubt, one of the greatest human beings I have ever met, and one of my all-time favorite individuals, both as a competitor and as a friend," said Jerry West, who played for Sharman and worked alongside him in the Lakers' front office. "He was the epitome of class and dignity and, I can assure you, we find few men of his character in this world."
Sharman won four NBA titles during an 11-season career as a shooting guard in Boston, teaming with Bob Cousy in one of the most potent backcourts in league history. He was widely considered one of the greatest outside shooters of his era, and he's still ranked as one of the NBA's best free-throw shooters.
Sharman then spent the past four decades with Los Angeles as a coach and executive. In his first season on the bench, he coached the 1971-72 Lakers to a championship with 69 victories — then an NBA record — and a 33-game winning streak, the longest in pro sports history.
"Be it on the court as a star player for the Boston Celtics, or on the sidelines as the guiding force behind the Lakers' first NBA championship in Los Angeles, Bill Sharman led an extraordinary basketball life," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "More than that, however, Bill was a man of great character and integrity. His loss will be deeply felt. On behalf the NBA family, our thoughts and condolences go out to Bill's family."
Sharman was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and a coach in 2004, joining only John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens with that double distinction. In 1996, he was selected as one of the NBA's 50 best players of its first 50 years.
"Bill Sharman was a great man, and I loved him dearly," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "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."
William Walton Sharman was born May 25, 1926, in Abilene, Texas. He grew up in the Los Angeles area and in the San Joaquin Valley before becoming a star guard at Southern California, where they retired the jersey of the shooter known as "Bullseye Bill" in 2007.
Sharman also excelled in baseball, getting drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. A year later, the minor leaguer was called up to the Dodgers in time to be in the dugout at the Polo Grounds when the Giants' Bobby Thomson hit his famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World," the homer that beat Brooklyn for the 1951 NL pennant.
He played his first NBA season with the Washington Capitols in 1950-51, but Red Auerbach landed him for Boston after the Capitols folded. Sharman became an eight-time NBA All-Star with the Celtics, averaging 17.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in his 11-year career.
The outside shooting specialist excelled after the NBA introduced the shot clock in 1954, and the arrival of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn in 1956 propelled the Celtics to the franchise's first title — the first of four NBA crowns in the next five years for Sharman.