Where Are They Now? Bill Sharman
When you shake his hand, the grip is firm and professional. You look him in the eye and he still has the enthusiasm of a young warrior and when you speak with him, you realize that you are talking with a true champion and a sincere gentleman. This is Bill Sharman.
The last time #21 wore the familiar Celtics Green and White was on April 11, 1961 at the famous Boston Garden. Bill Sharman went out in style, as the Celtics captured their third straight world championship title against the St. Louis Hawks, with a 121-112 victory that day.
But, maybe, he never went out of style. It looks like he could still play and coach today.
With Bill Sharman you get excellence, consistency and a winner. He was an eight-time NBA All-Star (1953-60 and Most Valuable Player in 1955), an All-NBA First Team selection (1956-59) and a four-time NBA World Champion, all with the Celtics, in 1957 and 1959-61. In today's day and age of statistics, he would have been a wizard. He connected on 88.3% of his free throws in his career. He led the NBA in free throw shooting seven times (with a career-best of 93.2 % in 1959), he once made 56 consecutive free throws (March 18 - April 9, 1959) and, to no surprise, he led his team in free throw shooting for all ten years of his professional career.
As a head coach, Bill is the only man to win Coach of the year honors and to capture a championship title in three different leagues: 1962 with the ABL Cleveland Pipers, 1971 with the ABA Utah Stars and 1972 with the NBA Los Angeles Lakers.
Bill, how did Coach Red Auerbach impact and affect your life, and your life as a future coach?
SHARMAN: "Oh my, he had a very big influence on my coaching. One of the things, going into that era (of the 1950's) there were not that many teams fast-breaking all the time. Even if you think their defense is all set, if you get it down the floor real quick, there might be one guy out of position, for a quick pass and an easy shot... often times for a lay-up. So, the running fast break is, maybe, the biggest thing I got from him. Oh, and the other thing is that Red always got his teams in training camp in top shape to start the season. They, usually got off to a good start."
Did being around Coach Auerbach influence you on what type of player you wanted to coach and have on your teams?
SHARMAN: "Yes, I think so. I think it was his influence that rubbed off on me because I wanted players who could use the fast break. But, first, they've got pass, shoot and be able to rebound. But I thought the running fast break was going to be way for all teams in the future. I think Red likes to say that he started it (the running fast break) but I know he used it more than anyone else.
What do you think was the key to the famous fast break style the Celtics played?
SHARMAN: "Well, the fast break started with the Boston Celtics but I give Red, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell credit. They are the three people most responsible for the fast break. Red instilled it, Bob Cousy playing the playmaker got it going and Bill Russell, you needed his rebounding and defense to make it work. And, a few of the shooters, like me, helped it along a little."
Was there chemistry on those teams you played for and did you think it was important when you were coaching?
SHARMAN: "Oh, yes, absolutely. But, Red had a built-in situation where, at that time, there was no free agency. So, if you didn't do it his way or our way, you could end up going to another team. So, that helped a lot right there. I think that kept the team together. I was in Boston ten years and, I think, Bob Cousy was there twelve years. But, you know, all these people that I played with were almost like family as you almost lived with them for about five or six months. We had great chemistry and give Red a lot of credit. I think the type of players he wanted were players who would be easy to get along with and wouldn't be a problem."
It's amazing that you kept players together all those years and won consecutive world titles year after year. How did all that happen and how did all of you maintain that each season?
SHARMAN: "It was that 'team' concept. The Celtics have won 16 championships and they have never had an individual lead the league in scoring and, again, this gets back to Red and the fast break. If you have the fast break, you get down there quickly and throw the ball to someone who is open.
So, you reward the players who are hustling and cutting and moving. Thus, you don't have one player who will dominate the team or the league."
Free throw shooting - the distance from the basket is the same as when you were playing and height of the basket remains the same...why hasn't the free throw percentage increased or improved over the years?
SHARMAN: "You know that's a mystery to me, too. Because, when I played and not to make an excuse, they had the original baskets that were bolted right into the backboard, then later, they put in the break-away baskets and some days I hit the rim and some would fall in. I wish I had those rims when I was playing because I would hit all iron and it would bounce off. I think, and this is just my own opinion, players today focus so much on rebounding and dunking. Bill Russell didn't ever dunk the ball. I think today everybody is looking forward to dunking. Maybe they practice that kind of playing where they, maybe, should be practicing more free throw shooting.
I see today where players come out and warm-up day of the game and pre-game and they're not shooting free throws! When I played and we went out onto the court, the first thing I did was get to the free throw line and I'd shoot until I made three or four in a row without leaving. Then at halftime, I'd go out shoot three or four in a row. I would see the ball going into the hoop, the image, the confidence really helped me... but I don't see that today."
Bill, do have any special memories of your days as a Boston Celtic?
SHARMAN: "Well, you know, I have a lot of great memories from the Boston Celtics... I was there ten years. But I think the first thought that comes to mind is that when we won the first championship... the NBA's World Championship in the Boston Garden in the seventh game in double-overtime. Now, what could be more dramatic than that? But, as far as the team, it was just so wonderful, They didn't have free agency then, so even today many years later some of my best friends were my teammates like, Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey, Tommy Heinsohn and so many more.
Was there any particular lesson that you learned by being a Celtic?
SHARMAN: "I think that being a Celtic and having so many good memories made me want to stay in basketball more and to be a coach. So, that's one of the things that I was very pleased with. And, again, I just want say how much I enjoyed being there and the fans of New England were so great and they treated the whole team and me just wonderfully. You know, I think that team might be somewhat responsible for the way basketball expanded in the United States and to different countries around the world."
The Boston Celtics would like to thank Fox Sports Net New England for their assistance with this segment.