Basketball fans in Boston and Los Angeles had reason to mourn Friday at news of the passing of Bill Sharman, a pivotal figure in the rise of both cities’ NBA franchises.
Sharman died Friday at his home in Redondo Beach, Calif., his wife, Joyce, told The Los Angeles Times. He was 87.
When Bill Russell joined the Celtics in 1956, the team had two of the NBA’s biggest superstars: Bob Cousy, the ballhandler, and Sharman, the shooter. Nicknamed “The Houdini of the Hardwood” and “The Shooter,” respectively, Cousy and Sharman formed one of the league’s first star duos, setting the stage for the Celtics’ fastbreak style to come.
Sharman would later bring that style to Los Angeles as a coach, leading the Lakers to their first championship in L.A. in 1972 and laying the foundation for the “Showtime”-era Lakers of the 1980s. He oversaw the Lakers’ trading for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and drafting of Magic Johnson in 1979.
Sharman was named to eight All-Star teams and seven All-NBA teams, and was awarded All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honors in 1955. He averaged 18.1 points in 10 seasons with the Celtics, helping the organization win its first four titles. He led the NBA in free-throw percentage seven times.
“Bill Sharman with the basketball at the free throw line was a sports work of art,” columnist Jim Murray wrote, according to the Times. “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.”
Sharman is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player, one of only three men who can boast both honors. His No. 21 is retired by the Celtics.
Photo via Facebook/Bill Sharman