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NBA Draft: Bill Sharman became the Lakers' good luck charm

June 23, 2011 |  1:08 pm

Sharman3Filled with nervousness, Lakers then-General Manager Bill Sharman waited to hear the organization's fate in the 1979 NBA draft on a simple coin flip.

That was the procedure at the time to determine the selection process, and a phone call from Bulls GM Rod Thorn left Sharman uneasy. The Bulls earned the first pick in the Eastern Conference after finishing in last place, while the Lakers earned the Western Conference's first pick after trading Gail Goodrich the previous season to the New Orleans Jazz.

Mindful of the Bulls' on-court struggles and lagging attendance, Thorn reached out to Sharman weeks before the draft seeking permission to call the coin flip, an initiative that he wanted to involve fan input. Sharman's first instinct, as he recalled this week in an email, involved an "emphatic No," but he soon relented because the two shared a good relationship with front-office dealings and he believed it would prove beneficial for the NBA. 

"It was with great trepidation because I always called 'heads' since I felt that 'heads' was luckier than 'tails,' " Sharman wrote. "But it was a big gamble either way."

But it was a gamble that paid off.

To Sharman's dismay, the Bulls called "heads," but that uneasiness went away as soon as NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien announced "tails." The magnitude of that moment couldn't be overstated enough, considering the Lakers used that pick to select Magic Johnson.

"When the coin was tossed and it came up 'tails,' I nearly wept with RELIEF and joy!" Sharman wrote. "I was absolutely thrilled, as was the entire Lakers organization! It is hard to imagine what would have happened with our team if we had not been able to pick Magic. We won five championships with him, and he brought such incredible thrills and excitement..... not only to the Lakers, but the entire NBA. It makes me nervous right now to even allow myself to think about what it would have been like without him!"


The Lakers surely couldn't either. Sharman as the Lakers' coach led them to their first championship in Los Angeles during the 1971-72 season. Even though he officially retired in 1988 because of voice problems he attributed to damaged vocal cords, Sharman just completed his 21st season as the team's special consultant, which has entailed attending all home games and drafting monthly reports filled with his advice and critiques on the Lakers' play. And he soon became the Lakers' good luck charm for their NBA draft needs.

Sharman won't be in any meeting rooms during the 2011 NBA Draft Thursday when the Lakers mull over their second-round picks at Nos. 41, 46, 46, 58. He also admittedly hasn't followed college basketball enough to offer any insight on this year's draft. But Sharman's endorsements of Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, executive Jim Buss and Coach Mike Brown might be interpreted as more than just obligatory praise considering Sharman's good-luck reputation. "I am very excited about the new coach," Sharman said of Brown. "He has great enthusiasm and a winning background, and I think that we have a great core team that has every chance to have another championship year!"

That's because the Lakers soon believed Sharman to be a good luck charm after his permission in granting Thorn the rights in calling the coin flip led to Johnson's arrival. Interestingly enough, a similar scenario played out in the 1983 NBA draft. The Lakers secured Cleveland's first-round pick because midway through the 1979-80 season, the Lakers traded Butch Lee for Don Ford and swapped future first-round picks. With Cleveland finishing in last place, their No. 1 pick in the Eastern Conference went to the Lakers, setting up a coin flip with the San Diego Clippers, who owned the No. 1 pick out of the West.

On a conference call with the Lakers and Clippers, O'Brien flipped a coin, indicating "heads" would give the Lakers the right to call the coin flip and "tails" would give the Clippers the call. The coin landed in the Lakers' favor, but it opened up an interesting decision: Should Sharman pick heads because of his belief that heads is stronger than tails? Or should he stick with tails because that granted the Lakers the No. 1 pick in 1979? Sharman stuck with his instincts, called "heads," and it worked out, resulting in the Lakers' selecting James Worthy, who helped the team to three NBA titles and was named Finals MVP in one of those seasons. 

"I really wasn't tempted to go back and choose 'tails' because of of the coin flip with Magic," Sharman wrote. "I had always been very lucky and fortunate when I chose 'heads'. "

Sharman's fortune with coin flips served as just one example of his superstitions. The Lakers sent Sharman to the NBA draft lottery in 1994, which resulted in a No. 10 pick for Eddie Jones, whom Sharman described as a "great pick." During the Lakers' 33-game winning streak in the 1971-72 season, Sharman took a ballpoint pen out of his shirt pocket and placed it in his sport jacket pocket right before tipoff. And during his 10 seasons as a player for the Boston Celtics, Sharman ate chocolate and drank a cup of tea before every game, a ritual that coincided with four NBA titles, seven All-NBA selections, eight All-Star game appearances, one regular-season MVP and his becoming arguably of the greatest shooters of his era. 

"I feel that I have been lucky all of my life," Sharman wrote. "How many people get to do what they love for their entire career?  I have tried to be as positive a representative for the Lakers that I can be through the years, and I think that positive thinking and trying to do the right thing also brings along some luck with it."  


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Photo: Bill Sharman was seen as the Lakers' good luck charm in the NBA draft. Credit: Los Angeles Lakers.

Photo: Sharman has remained as a special consultant for the Lakers in the past 21 seasons. Credit: Los Angeles Lakers.