The Men who Led the Lakers
Joe Mullaney, 1969-71
Since the Lakers came to Los Angeles in 1960, two people that never set foot on the actual basketball court stand out as constantly impactful contributors.
The first is that of legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn, who called his first Lakers game in 1960 and 3,338 consecutive regular season contests from 1965 to 2001 with his colorful, insightful and unique style of play-by-play that taught so many to love the game. Hearn called his last game on June 12, 2002, as L.A. defeated New Jersey for a third straight championship.
The second name, Bill Bertka, remains with the team to this day as the Director of Scouting/Basketball Consultant. He personally worked alongside all but three of the 13 coaches in L.A. history, beginning as a scout in 1968, and then as an assistant coach from 1981 to 2001. Bertka possesses an absolute encyclopedic knowledge of not just Lakers franchise history but also basketball in general; if you like basketball, its extremely hard to find someone more fun to speak with.
With Bertkas insight driving us along, we continue a Lakers History series on the teams head coaches with Joe Mullaney (1969-71).
JOE MULLANEY: 1969-71
After consecutive trips to the Finals ended in defeat to Boston under head coach Bill van Breda Kolff, owner Jack Kent Cooke wanted a new coach in Los Angeles. Enter Joe Mullaney, who played college ball with Bob Cousy at Holy Cross and briefly in the NBA with the Celtics. After a stint with the FBI, Mullaney served as the head coach at Providence College from 1955-1969.
His style of ball was what Bill Bertka defined as Eastern.
That meant five-man movement with or without the ball on offense, and letting the defense dictate what youre going to do offensively, he explained. A lot of passing and ball-handling. Give and go. Pass and cut, nobody standing.
Defensively, Mullaney believed in forcing everything to the baseline and trapping the ball, not giving up anything in the paint if possible. Bertka classified Mullaney as a cerebral coach, not so much about the details, but that wasnt a fault so much as a style.
In his first season in L.A. (1969-70), the Lakers suffered some devastating injuries, losing Wilt Chamberlain early on and Elgin Baylor later to get only a combined 66 games out of the two stars. Jerry West managed to keep the team afloat, however, averaging 31.2 points and 7.5 assists on 49.7 percent shooting to lead L.A. to a 46-36 finish, first in the Western Division. Back came both Chamberlain and Baylor for the playoffs, and the Lakers defeated Phoenix (4-3) and Atlanta (4-0) to return to the Finals for a third straight season.
Instead of the Celtics, it was the New York Knicks awaiting L.A., but the result was the same as the previous season: a loss in Game 7.
The next season saw L.A. improve its win total by two games from the previous season at 48-34, first in the newly formed Pacific Division, but Baylor long bothered by a severe knee injury first suffered in 1965 played in just two regular season games and missed the playoffs. L.A. beat Chicago in the conference semis (4-3), but lost to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Western Finals (4-1).
When we failed to win, recalls Bertka, whose role had increased from his early days as a scout, Thats when Sharman came in.
Mullaney was out, and Bill Sharman was in, setting up what was to be the most glorious Lakers season to that point in 1971-72.
LAKERS COACHING RECORD:
Regular Season: 94-70 (.573)
Playoffs: 16-14 (.533)
Total: 110-84 (.567)