October 25, 2013

Bill Sharman, RIP

Bill Sharman, the great player for the Boston Celtics and coach for the Los Angeles Lakers has died at 87. He may have done more than anyone else to make professional basketball a more intelligent game.

Sharman was a mystery man to younger basketball fans because he had to retire from coaching at age 50 in 1976 because he'd permanently wrecked his vocal cords shouting to his players over crowds. After that, he couldn't speak loud enough to coach anymore.

I suspect if Sharman were starting coaching today, he'd establish a trend by always using a wrap-around mike and clip on speaker to alleviate the vocal stress. After all, he was one of the great innovators in the game's history. 

As Bob Cousy's backcourt mate, he had the idea of efficiency in scoring over raw scoring, constantly leading the NBA in field goal and free throw percentage on Boston's champion teams. He was also into fitness in an era when his teammates, such as Tommy Heinsohn, were into whiskey and chain smoking Lucky Strikes.

Then, according to Bill Simmons, Sharman more or less invented modern NBA coaching. Before Sharman, pro coaching (in contrast to high school and college coaching, which was much more instructive about fundamentals) consisted of offering players helpful advice like, "Don't let Monroe score a lot tonight" or "Try to block out Willis so he doesn't get too many rebounds." Coaches were used to teaching young players how to play the game, but the NBA was full of mature players who knew how to play, so there didn't seem to be much for NBA coaches to do.

Sharman brought the modern coaching mindset to the NBA. Basketball coaches don't work as hard as football coaches, but there are a lot of small edges they can attain by watching game film and other kinds of careful study.

He's most famous for inventing the morning pre-game shootaround, but that's mostly because it ties into a funny Wilt Chamberlain story. When Sharman announced light morning practices before night games, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich told him that they'd be there, but no way was Wilt going to make it.

But, Sharman was the best coach Wilt ever had. In 1971, he convinced Wilt to stop trying to score much and just play defense and rebounding like his old rival Bill Russell, who had won eleven NBA titles to Wilt's one. With Wilt enthusiastically on-board as a born-again team player, the Lakers won 33 straight games and an NBA title.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been contacted by Qatthaffi.

Do you think he is still alive?

ben tillman said...

He was also into fitness in an era when his teammates, such as Tommy Heinsohn, were into whiskey and chain smoking Lucky Strikes.

His voice didn't fare so well, either.

ben tillman said...

Was 1971 the year Wilt shot over 70% from the field?

Anonymous said...

The TSA just last week found a loaded handgun in Bill Russell's carry-on luggage at Sea-Tac. So of course they arrested him. 79 year old Bill Russell.

Anonymous said...

An amazing thing about Bill Sharman was that he played both NBA basketball and minor league baseball for five years before focusing on basketball.

In NBA basketball, he shot a career percentage of 88% from the free-throw line.

Anonymous said...

will the new Celtics manager, who is a stat geek by all accounts and had a non-traditional path to coaching 'revolutionize' the nba and how teams selected coaches?

I despise the Celtics, but i'll be interested to see how he does...or if his ideas don't translate into the NBA from coaching butler.

RAZ said...

Got me thinking about the few other guys I could think of who played both professional basketball and baseball. Danny Ainge, Dave DeBusscherre (spelling?) and the Rifleman - Chuck Connors - who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Celtics. Probably others out there too.

Anonymous said...

Having the greatest NBA coach of all time as a mentor didn't hurt, either.

Tony said...

"he convinced Wilt to stop trying to score much"
Wilt was still one of the top scorers off the court. Don't remember if he scored more women or more points in his career.

ben tillman said...

Got me thinking about the few other guys I could think of who played both professional basketball and baseball. Danny Ainge, Dave DeBusscherre (spelling?) and the Rifleman - Chuck Connors - who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Celtics. Probably others out there too.

Ron Reed.

Anonymous said...

Gene Conley, a former customer of mine in the graphics field, played 11 years of major league baseball and 8 years in the NBA. He's the only man to play for championship teams in 2 sports (1 with the Milwaukee Braves and 3 with the Celtics).

James Kabala said...

And like many isteve commenters, Conley had a notable interest in Israel.

pat said...

I grew up in and around Washington DC. We didn't have real professional sports teams in those days. The Redskins were led by Eddy LeBaron - who was a Hobbit. The Senators could only win on the Broadway stage and there was no pro basketball team at all.

So I adopted the Boston Celtics as 'my' team. On TV of course.

The Celtics played 'white' basketball - a very different game then what you see today. It wasn't just that there were two-hand set shots, they actually ran plays. About a half dozen times in every Celtic game you would suddenly see every one on the opposing team were simultaneously out of position and Russell hadn't come down court - he was hanging out under the enemy basket. There would be a long, long pass and an uncontested lay up. Or Russell would have come down he would grab a rebound and another Celtic would get the long pass and lay up.

It was fun to watch. More like chess than just mindless running and jumping.

So here's my politically insensitive question. There are said to be 217 genes that effect human height. Height is polygenic. Height is important in basketball but it isn't the only thing that's important. I would guess that there are another two or three hundred genes involved in making a great ball player.

Some day soon we will have control of those genes and we will be able to 'dial up' another Jordan level player. Since the vast majority of all basketball players are white (only the good ones are black) we will soon have plenty of white players with all the athletic ability of blacks.

The question is: will they play like Jordan because they can or like Sharman because they want to? When the NBA is again mostly white will those new teams run plays again?

Albertosaurus