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Sharman squeezed into Hall second time

SPRINGFIELD -- Bill Sharman was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame last night -- for the second time. His first induction came 28 years ago, when his 11 years of NBA playing service -- all but one in Boston -- were honored. Last night's induction was for his career as a head coach, when he won titles in three leagues (including the NBA) and was coach of the year in different leagues.

Sharman joins John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as two-time inductees. But he needs to be inducted one more time -- as a contributor. For it is Bill Sharman who introduced what is now a staple of NBA life -- the morning shootaround. He started doing it on his own at a high school gym near his home in Needham, which is where he lived when he played for the Celtics. He then decided to use it in his first head coaching gig -- with the George Steinbrenner-owned Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League -- and, lo and behold, the Pipers won the title that season (1961-62).

Sharman later used the shootaround with his NBA teams in San Francisco (1966-68) and in Los Angeles with the Lakers from 1971-76. In each instance, his team advanced to the NBA Finals in his first season. He even got noted morningphobe Wilt Chamberlain to buy into his new scheme, although, Sharman admitted yesterday, Wilt was a little skeptical.

"You know I don't like to get up early in the morning," Chamberlain told Sharman, when the coach broached the shootaround subject at a lunch shortly before the start of what would be a championship season in 1971-72. Sharman remembered two other things about that day: Chamberlain picking him up in a Rolls-Royce and not having his wallet with him to buy lunch.

"But Wilt said he'd give it a try if he saw that it helped the team," Sharman recalled. "I told him it would be good if he just showed up. Well, we got off to a good start that year, so, thank goodness for that. And, to my recollection, Wilt only missed two all season and he called me both times to tell me."

The shootaround is now up there with per diem and traveling as de facto parts of NBA life. Maybe some coach along the way would have figured out that it can be a good thing to get players to break a sweat on the day of a night game. But Sharman is the first one who did it, and made it a part of his routine.

He said the idea was hatched in the final four to five years of his playing career. As he explained it, he always had nervous energy before games and, eventually, he decided to shoot off some of the angst at the neighborhood gym. He then had an epiphany.

"I would just go to the gym and take a few shots, but I noticed that I suddenly felt fresher and more confident during games," he said. "So I started doing it for all the games. And my performance was much better."

Sharman would shoot by himself in the Needham gym when the Celtics were home. When they were on the road, he'd have Red Auerbach arrange for a gym to be available, and Sharman would often be accompanied by Gene Conley, who, like Sharman, also had his moments as a professional baseball player. (Sharman had a stint with the Dodgers.)

Sharman, typically, pointed to a difference in his free throw shooting as a result of this new exercise. He was pretty good anyway -- around 85 percent in his first five years with the Celtics. But his percentage soared to 90.3 percent in his final five years with the Celtics. Sharman led the league in free throw shooting seven times and says the free throw is a lost art these days because too many kids work on their dunks instead of their freebies.

But free throws weren't the only area of improvement. Sharman's scoring picked up as well. In his first five seasons with Boston, Sharman never averaged more than 19.9 points a game. In 1955-56, the last year before Bill Russell arrived, that was sufficient to lead the team. He then led the team in each of the next three years, averaging 21.1, 22.3, and 20.4 points.

"I'm not bragging about that," he said almost apologetically, "because the Celtics played a team game. But my performance was better and I credit that to the extra shooting I did. And I said to myself, `If I ever coach, I'm going to do that for my team.' "

That opportunity came in January 1962. The Los Angeles Jets of the ABL folded midway through the season and then surfaced in Cleveland as the Pipers. The Jets' coach, John McLendon, resigned Jan. 28 and Sharman took over. The Pipers won the ABL title and the shootaround was born.

The concept was still largely unknown or not utilized until the Lakers' historic 1971-72 season, when the team won an NBA-record 33 straight. During that season, the Lakers won 69 games, only once failed to reach 100 points, and averaged 121 for the season. With their winning streak and subsequent title, and with luminaries such as Jerry West and Gail Goodrich (and, to a lesser extent, Chamberlain) buying into the shootaround, it became the fixture that it is today. 

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