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, it’s extremely hard to find someone more fun to speak with.
With Bertka’s insight driving us along, we begin a Lakers History series on the team’s head coaches, beginning with Fred Schaus, the first coach in Los Angeles who patrolled the sidelines from 1960-67.
FRED SCHAUS: 1960-67
When former Lakers owner Bob Short packed up his Elgin Baylor-led squad and moved it from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960, he was quite fortunate to have the No. 2 overall pick in that year’s draft, since it turned into West Virginia star Jerry West. Needing a coach to replace John Castellani (Baylor’s former college coach, incidentally), Short looked to West Virginia for West’s college coach, Fred Schaus.
At WVU, Schaus ran a wide-open, fast-breaking style of offense, and he brought that system to L.A. to utilize the elite athleticism of his two best players. Schaus led the Lakers to seven consecutive playoff appearances, winning the Western Conference Championship four times (1962, ’63, ’65 and ’66), but could never quite get past the Boston Celtics in the Finals.
Schaus had been familiar with Bertka from Bertka’s days as the head coach at Kent State University in Ohio, and when Bertka began his widely-successful and impactful scouting service in 1961 (Bertka Views), Schaus took note, eventually hiring him to scout in 1968 after Schaus had moved into the front office as general manager.
Bertka recalls a regret of Schaus from his coaching days:
“At that time, the focal point of the team was Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, and Fred always lamented that they never had an outstanding center,” said Bertka. “Bill Russell was dominating for the Celtics, who were the dominant team of only about eight teams, and while Fred’s teams were good, they could never beat the Celtics. That’s when Fred just decided to focus on the GM position.”
Bertka remembers Schaus as a fiery, foot-stomping man, a player’s coach whom he liked on a personal level. Furthermore, Bertka was thankful to be given the opportunity to scout – which he’d done at the college level, of course – as it was not nearly as common of an NBA practice at the time.
Once in the GM seat, Schaus would finally get his ring when the 1971-72 team had its dream season with Bill Sharman on the sideline.
LAKERS COACHING RECORD:
Regular Season: 315-245 (.563)
Playoffs: 33-38 (.465)
Total: 348-283 (.552)