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'33STR8' — Sharman and '72 Lakers remembered
MANHATTAN BEACH — “33 STR8.” Of all the accomplishments in Bill Sharman’s life, it’s one standard that may never be equaled.
A celebration to honor Sharman, a 1944 Porterville High graduate, and his 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers basketball team was held on Thursday at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. All nine of the living members of the team that went on to win the NBA title and the head coach, Sharman attended the event.
But the indelible mark that Sharman and that team left on sports was their 33-game winning streak that season, the longest winning streak in the history of professional sports.
When Sharman came as the new coach of the Lakers in 1971, he made his mark right away, during the team’s training camp in Hawaii. But it was anything but paradise.
“He ran the hell out of us,” said the great Gail Goodrich, a guard for that team who benefitted from Sharman’s leadership to become more of an offensive threat that season. “We were really in shape.”
Goodrich said Sharman turned the Lakers from a team more centered around its superstars like Jerry West and Elgin Baylor to a more balanced squad. “He gave me the green light to shoot the basketball,” Goodrich said.
About that season, Goodrich said about what Sharman did, “the whole culture was changed.”
And Goodrich said Sharman was able to get Wilt Chamberlain to buy into his program. “Wilt, I think, sacrificed more of himself for the betterment of the team,” Goodrich said.
Which brings up a question that may never be definitively answered. Did Chamberlain attend the first morning shootaroud that Sharman scheduled. One of Sharman’s many innovations now used in the NBA is the morning shootaround on game day. But it’s well-known that Chamberlain loved the night life and wouldn’t have been too fond of a morning shootaround.
Jim Cleamons, a rookie on the team, said Chamberlain didn’t show for the first shootaround. But Pat Riley, who was a role player on that team, disagreed. “I believe he was there,” Riley said.
Sharman, who essentially lost his voice during that season and is unable to do lengthy interviews, said he didn’t remember if Chamberlain was at the first shootaround. But Sharman has said in the past that Chamberlain bought into the idea and attended virtually all of the morning shootarounds that season.
The legendary Jerry West, who made up one of the NBA’s greatest guard tandems of all time with Goodrich, jokingly said about Sharman, “He screwed up the league with that shootaround.”
“It was a magical year for all of us,” said West about 1971-72. But West said winning the NBA title was bittersweet as his good friend, Baylor, who was also at Thursday’s event, had to retire nine games into the season due to a knee injury.
About Sharman, West said one of the best attributes was he “enhanced all of our abilities” when commenting on the entire team.
Riley obviously went on to a legendary coaching career in his own right as he was the Lakers coach during the “Showtime” era, leading the team to four NBA titles in the 1980s. There with him as team executives were West and Sharman.
“He had a huge influence on me,” said Riley about Sharman. “He was a real tactician. He was real innovative. I loved Bill Sharman as a coach.”
About the team that year, Riley said, “it was managed incredibly well by Bill.”
During the celebration event, there was a performance by Jeffrey Osborne of his signature song “On the Wings of Love.” Osborne also received help on “Can You Woo, Woo, Woo?” and if there was any question about Riley and another former Lakers great, James Worthy, who was also at the event, they can definitely “Woo, Woo, Woo.”
Also at the event, there was a sneak preview of the documentary, “33 STR8 — The Greatest Winning Streak in Pro Sports History.” The documentary, set to debut in January, 2013, is being co-produced by Sharman’s wife, Joyce, and Dr. Elliott Haimoff. The title comes from
Sharman’s personalized license plate for the 33-game win streak, which was a gift.
Based on the sneak preview, the documentary will be a must see. In the documentary, Riley calls the 33-game win streak, “the great record in sports history.”
Also featured is another one of Sharman’s innovations, his idea for the three-point shot, which was first used in the American Basketball Association in the 1960s.
And in a demonstration of Sharman’s character, the documentary talked about one of Sharman’s teammates, Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in a game in NBA history. When Sharman was a rookie with Lloyd in 1950 with the Washington Capitols, during a time and place in which it wouldn’t have been so well accepted, Sharman gave Lloyd a ride to practice every day.