Bill Sharman is 87 years old. Saturday afternoon, he had a mild stroke. These things hit us like lightning bolts of reality.
Los Angeles has more than its share of sports legends. We are blessed. We thought John Wooden would live forever. We were wrong. Jim Murray, Jerry Buss, Chick Hearn, Jack Kramer. We just assumed there, too. It is not right that there isn't still a booth at Julie's, with John McKay firing off one-liners.
We cling to our special people.
Tommy Lasorda is our living proof that pasta is a vegetable. John Robinson can still out-chuckle Santa Claus. Terry Donahue is ageless. Laffit Pincay Jr. is just one bad back away from a Triple Crown. Bob Miller could still do radio and TV, simultaneously, if they'd let him, plus run five marathons a year. Vin Scully cannot get old. It is not allowed.
Sharman is a Lakers legend. Also, a Boston Celtics legend. That in itself is an eyebrow-raising parlay. Most of Sharman's achievements are eyebrow-raising.
For the casual sports fan, the quick summary is that Sharman was a star guard for the Celtics in the Bob Cousy-Bill Russell era. He got into coaching in the aftermath of his playing career and was the man on the bench, calling the shots, during the Lakers' 1972 championship run that included the record 33-game winning streak.
After coaching, Sharman has stayed on for years in various capacities with the Lakers, including general manager, team president and consultant.
He still goes to games, still greets people with the same huge smile and warm handshake. It is difficult to find high-profile, successful sports figures who have carried on for a long time and remain beloved. In Los Angeles, we have more than our share. In Sharman, we certainly have one.
The days are tougher now for Sharman, but never unhappy. He gets easily confused. The vocal-cord injury that he suffered from too much hollering during the 1971-72 season has never healed. The year he spent in total silence in 1988 helped, but one of the medical procedures meant to correct the problem — it involved crushing one of his vocal cords — ended up making the squeaky voice permanent.
Still, he continues to see friends and make appearances. He still lights up like a Christmas tree around family, which includes six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Before the stroke, he and his wife of 32 years, Joyce, decided to find a way to light up the lives of others. The stroke will slow him down, but not the project.
He and Joyce have a plan to raise money for a charity they've been involved with for the better part of 25 years, the Toberman Neighborhood Center in San Pedro. It serves at-risk children, offers job training and mentoring, even has a model gang-intervention program that Los Angeles used for awhile.
Bill and Joyce saw what the Lakers' Metta World Peace did after the Lakers won the 2010 title and were inspired to do something similar. World Peace raffled off his championship ring to benefit mental health causes and raised an estimated $800,000.
"Bill didn't play when there was lots of money being made," Joyce Sharman says, "but we realized that, because of who he was and what he did, he is able to participate in other ways."
And so, if you go to http://www.billsringofhope.com, you can see exactly how Bill Sharman will participate in what Joyce Sharman calls "our finale."
There, you will have a chance to buy raffle tickets for Sharman's 2010 Lakers championship ring, the one he received for his consulting role. It's not his only championship ring, certainly, but when you consider that it will probably be his last, and that it represents Phil Jackson's finale, Buss' finale and, of course, a seventh-game victory over his hated and beloved Celtics, you can quickly determine the emotional and sentimental value.
The winning name will be drawn on Nov. 22, and the winner will come to Los Angeles and be presented with the ring by Sharman, at a Lakers game.
"This is who Bill is," Joyce says. "He is genuine, humble, and we want this to be part of his legacy."
Sharman is from Porterville, Calif. The gymnasium there is named for him.
Saturday night, Porterville will stage its first sports hall of fame ceremony, in the Bill Sharman Gym. Sharman, who is in basketball's Naismith Hall of Fame as both a player and coach and is also in the USC Hall of Fame, will now also be in the Porterville Hall of Fame.
The whole Sharman family had planned to be there. Ideally, Bill will be strong enough to make it.
"It's kind of exciting in a different way," Joyce says. "He goes back to Porterville, where it all started.
"Life has come full circle."
We in Los Angeles are more than willing to share our legend with Porterville. Just make sure to send him back, happy and healthy. We are starting to cling to them.