Legendary basketball player, coach Bill Sharman dies at 87

Updated 10:38 PM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
Bill Sharman draws coverage from St. Louis Hawks
Bill Sharman draws coverage from St. Louis Hawks' Cliff Hagan during a March 30, 1958 game in Boston.
PHOTO: J. Walter Green/AP

Story highlights

NEW: James Worthy, Magic Johnson and others remember Sharman

Sharman played 10 seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning 4 titles

He was later a coaching and front office stalwart for the L.A. Lakers

He's one of just 3 inducted into the Hall of Fame as both coaches, players

(CNN) —  

Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Sharman – who won four NBA titles as a player, one as a head coach and five in his club’s front office – died Friday in southern California, his former teams said.

He was 87.

Sharman first gained recognition as a celebrated athlete at Porterville High School, located in a central California town of that name some 50 miles north of Bakersfield. His next stop was the University of South California, earning All-America honors for his play on the court in both 1949 and 1950 – and leading the school’s athletic department to label Sharman “perhaps the greatest all-time” player in Trojan history.

But it was in his 10 NBA seasons, all with the Boston Celtics, that Sharman truly emerged as a national star. Teaming in the backcourt with the legendary Bob Cousy, he earned All-Star nods each season from 1953 through 1960. Beyond that, he was a first-team All-NBA selection in 1956 through 1959.

His most important honors, though, were the NBA championships he earned in 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1961 alongside the likes of Cousy, Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. According to NBA.com, Sharman finished his playing career with 2,779 rebounds, 2,101 assists and 12,665 points, or 17.8 points per game.

The Celtics’ current team president, Danny Ainge – who himself later starred as a Boston guard – expressed sadness upon hearing of Sharman’s death.

“Bill combined with Bob Cousy to form one of the dominant backcourts of their era winning four championships together,” Ainge said. “The Celtic family has lost a great friend today.”

Yet Sharman’s basketball legacy didn’t end with his playing career.

He coached in the American Basketball League, where he led the Cleveland Pipers to a championship, and later did the same in the American Basketball Association with the Utah Stars.

His next coaching stop was with the Los Angeles Lakers. That 1971-1972 team – which included Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich – ran off 33 straight wins at one point during the regular season, which it finished with a then-record of 69 wins and 13 losses. Their dominance continued into the playoffs, capped by Los Angeles’ first NBA title.

West, now an executive board member with the Golden State Warriors, remembered his teammate as “one of the greatest human beings I have ever met and one of my all-time favorite individuals, both as a competitor and as a friend.”

He was the epitome of class and dignity and, I can assure you, we find few men of his character in this world,” West said.

Sharman stepped down from coaching in 1976 to take front-office jobs as general manager and club president, a period that included five more Laker titles.

That franchise remembered Sharman fondly Friday, with Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president of business operations, calling it “a sad day for anyone who loves and cares about the Lakers.”

“Bill Sharman was a great man, and I loved him dearly,” the Lakers’ current general manager, Mitch Kupchak, said in a statement. “From the time I signed with the team as a free agent in 1981 when Bill was general manager, he’s been a mentor, a work collaborator, and most importantly, a friend.”

Sharman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and as a coach in 2004. He, John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens are the only men honored in both roles.

Remembrances of Sharman poured in online after news got out of his passing, many of them from men who never played with him but nonetheless came to know him well.

For all his success on the court and in the front office, they almost universally remarked on the unique type of man that Sherman was – kind, gentle and humble.

Former Laker Sasha Vujacic described him as “one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever met.” Kurt Rambis, a part of the L.A. franchise’s 1980s success, said he “enjoyed every second we spent together.” And Sharman’s fellow Hall of Famer Earvin Magic Johnson lamented having “lost a coach, mentor and friend.”

“One of my best friends ever will be missed,” tweeted former Laker James Worthy. “A true gentleman.”