The saddest thing is not that Bill Sharman left us on Friday -- it's that his voice left him so many decades ago.
If there's anyone I wanted to hear talk it was Sharman, who was 87 when he died. I always wished I could take a seat next to him and listen to the unparalleled combination of stories that he alone could tell.
What it was like to play with Bob Cousy. What it was like to coach Wilt Chamberlain. What it sounded like when Bobby Thomson's bat met the ball for the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."
Yes, as if Sharman's Hall of Fame playing career with the Boston Celtics and Hall of Fame coaching career highlighted by the 1971-72 Lakers and their 69-win season weren't remarkable enough, he also was a skilled-enough baseball player that he was in the visitors dugout at the Polo Grounds as a late-season call-up for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Thomson hit that famous home run on Oct. 3, 1951.
The problem was, Sharman severely damaged his vocal cords -- dating back to that 1972 Lakers team's 33-game winning streak, his wife, Joyce, believes. By the time I met him a dozen or so years ago, in his role as a consultant to the Lakers, Sharman could only make high-pitched, warbly sounds when he talked. It was difficult for him to speak at length. If you left him a message he would return the call on principle, but he couldn't say very much.
Still, he never failed to say hello to me or anyone else who approached him at games or other Lakers events, usually with a sincere, "Nice to see you," accompanied by a warm handshake. You wanted to be around him not so much for his achievements, but for his kindness.
"Despite his greatness as a player, coach and executive, Bill was one of the sweetest, nicest and most humble people I've ever known," Lakers president Jeanie Buss said in a statement released by the team. "He was truly one of a kind. On behalf of our organization, the Buss family, and the entire Lakers family, I send my condolences, prayers and love to Joyce and the Sharman family."
When the 1971-72 Lakers gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their championship season, Sharman's health was already declining. He still managed to dominate the discussion, as his players recalled his ability to elicit the best from Wilt Chamberlain and all of the winning pieces around him.
"Bill's way of playing probably enhanced all of our abilities," Jerry West said that day.
Sharman would later serve as the Lakers' general manager, overseeing the early days of the Showtime Era, and he was a consultant from the days of Shaquille O'Neal to Kobe Bryant.
"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," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "He's meant a great deal to the success of the Lakers and to me personally, and he will be missed terribly."
Pat Riley, a member of that 1972 championship team and the coach of four Lakers champions in the 1980s, summarized Sharman the best: "Bill brought a real genuine integrity to the franchise."
The integrity never went away, even after the voice did.