The Popcorn Stand: Sharman made the NBA what it is

The NBA draft lottery was Tuesday night and as we were talking about the proceedings in the newsroom, I recalled memories of legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach and player Bill Sharman. Sharman is from Porterville, Calif., my old stomping grounds. As the Porterville Recorder sports editor, I got to know Sharman and interviewed him on numerous occasions. I may be biased but I believe Sharman, who died in 2013, made the NBA what it was going to be in the 1980s and 1990s and here’s why. Before there was a draft lottery, in 1979 the No. 1 overall pick in the draft was determined by a coin flip between the Western Conference’s and Eastern Conference’s worst teams. Sharman was the Los Angeles Lakers general manager at the time and through a trade he made, he acquired the Western Conference’s rights to the No. 1 overall pick. It was obvious in 1979 Magic Johnson was going to be the No. 1 overall pick. For those of you thinking didn’t Larry Bird also come out in 1979, it should be noted Red Auerbach had the foresight to draft Bird for the Boston Celtics in 1978, a year before Bird would be eligible for the NBA. The Chicago Bulls had the Eastern Conference’s rights to the No. 1 overall pick. Bulls general manager Rod Thorn told Sharman the Bulls planned to hold a contest asking fans what the call of the coin flip should be and asked Sharman if he could call the coin flip. Relieved of the pressure of not having to call the coin flip, Sharman gladly told Thorn yes. Thorn made the wrong call, the Lakers drafted Johnson but that’s not the end of the story. Because the Bulls continued to be in a tailspin, five years later they were able to draft Michael Jordan. The Lakers became the team of the 1980s and the Bulls became the team of the 1990s as the two teams combined to win 11 NBA titles over that time period. All because of a coin flip. All because of Sharman. At least that’s the way I see it. — Charles Whisnand


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