2.28.2016

Bill Sharman, Los Angeles Laker


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The first thing Bill Sharman did after hiring KC Jones was assign Jones the task of devising a defensive scheme that would fully leverage the assets brought to the table by the top eight players on the 1971-72 Lakers’ roster. Defense wins championships, and Sharman was convinced that the Lakers were not a team in decline. With Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain, and a versatile supporting cate, Sharman saw this Laker team as one with unlimited potential.

Although the obvious starting point for building a defense might have been Wilt Chamberlain, Jones started with Gail Goodrich. Listed at 6-3, Goodrich’s nickname, “Stumpy,” belied a shorter stature. Goodrich could light it up at will against just about any size defender, but taller opposing guards could do the same against him. The Hall of Fame defender Jones taught Goodrich how to play a pesky, bulldog style of defense despite size disadvantage.

Next Sharman sat down with West, Chamberlain, and Goodrich to discuss the running game he wanted to implement. Rather than tiring the old men out, Sharman explained, a run-and-gun style would create lots of easy baskets, and the opportunities to build big leads, which would give the Lakers "Big Three" a chance to rest. Goodrich and West were thrilled. Even Chamberlain was excited. Having spent most of his career playing in offenses designed to wait for him to lumber down from one end of the court to the other, Chamberlain understood that rebounding the ball on defense and then throwing an outlet pass to start a fast break would save him innumerable trips up and down the floor.

That was easy. 

What followed was not.

Next on the agenda was Sharman’s old favorite, the morning shootaround. Invented by Sharman while still a player during the 1955-56 season, Sharman found that putting in a little work the morning before a game had increased his field-goal percentage and his free-throw percentage. His teammates noticed the improvement, and soon began joining him for the morning shootarounds. They soon became a staple on the Boston Celtics and the championship teams he coached in the ABL and the ABA. Rick Barry and the San Francisco Warriors resisted the Sharman's morning shootarounds, and they lost in the Finals to Wilt in 1967. 

Speaking of Wilt, he didn’t like the idea of waking up early, either. He typically stayed out all night entertaining his lady friends, and usually didn’t rise until after 10 a.m. in the morning. Sharman explained the importance of the morning shootaround to increasing “muscle memory” and told Chamberlain that the Los Angeles Lakers still hadn’t maxed out their potential. If he wanted another title, the morning shootaround needed to be a part of the puzzle. Wilt relented, “as long as we win.”
Which brings us Elgin Baylor.

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