October 25, 2013
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.
By Steve Sailer on 10/25/2013