James Worthy calls Bill Sharman “the most gentle and nicest person I ever met”

Below is an interview with former Lakers forward James Worthy on the passing of former Lakers coach, executive and consultant Bill Sharman. Worthy is considered a Lakers expect as Time Warner Cable SportsNet Lakers studio analyst.

What’s your reflections on Bill Sharman’s passing?

It’s tough. I know Bill very well and I know his wife, Joyce, very well too. We communicated and e-mailed and we all knew he was slowing down a little bit. I heard about the stroke [on Saturday]. It’s unfortunate. He’s a true gentleman in Lakers royalty with a great history.

What impact do you think you made with the Lakers, and basketball overall?

When I first met Bill Sharman with the Lakers in 1982, I realized that he played a large part in me arriving here in Los Angeles. He was very instrumental in making that trade back in 1979 (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). You look at his life. This guy was a player for the Celtics, a Hall of Famer as a player and a coach, and there were only three people who have done that with John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens. When you find out as a youngster that he was a pretty good baseball player. If I’m not mistaken, he was on one of the Brooklyn Dodgers teams when Jackie Robinson was there.

Despite all of his accolades as a coach and an athlete, he was probably the most gentle and nicest person I ever met. That included my college coach, Coach [Dean] Smith [of North Carolina. He was a true nice gentleman. Every day, he always saw the bright side of things. You can tell on three fingers the people that no matter of profession you’re in that they touched lives. He touched lives in sports and outside of sports and the community. You can count on three fingers the people that when you see them, the uplift you automatically whether you’re down or not. He’s one of those guys who can always, just by his being, just uplift you. He was a cool dude.”

What was it about his personality that would uplift people?

He always looked on the bright side. There was never a down moment. You could be in the worst of situations, whether you’re back against the wall in a game or overcoming adversity. He always saw the good in everybody and he saw the good in the outcome of things. He had a great smile. For a long time, people had a hard time understanding him because he had the vocal issues. You really had to get up with him close. But once you got to know him, he was great. He’s a tough competitor. You didn’t want to play him in golf. He played up until he was 70. He’s a remarkable athlete and a smart and innovative.

What’s his legacy?

The things he left with the game with shootaround was invented by him. He realized that guys would stay up all night, sleep all day and come to the gym late. He implemented that. That was huge. That ’72 team won 33 games in a row. He’s got so much to remember. But the thing people will remember about Bill is he was a man’s man. He was just a cool dude you could learn if you sat around and listened. The accolades are a lot. He’s witnessed a lot. But people are going to remember his smile and willingness to encourage people.

You mentioned how he played a role in you getting to the Lakers because he made that trade. But he was also considered a good luck charm because he called the right coin flip to get the picks that drafted you and Magic Johnson. (With the Cleveland Cavaliers finishing in last place, their No. 1 pick in the Eastern Conference went to the Lakers. That set up a coin flip with the San Diego Clippers, who owned the No. 1 pick out of the West. Sharman successfully chose heads). Did you consider that as a sign that Sharman is a good luck charm?

I never thought of the coin flip that much. I didn’t know much about it and never really thought about it. But in general, he was the intangible force. To me, the Lakers never had a mystique like Boston had the mystique. But there was something about Bill Sharman where if you saw him in the locker room, he had a mystique. He had a silent angel feature about him.

From my understanding, you worked with him in his ring raffle that he was doing last year, what stuck out about working with him?

He and his wife, Joyce, they had given back for as long as I can remember him. He was very involved with the Toberman Foundation, which is a foundation in San Pedro that’s been around for over 100 years. He and his wife were very instrumental in raising money. In his generosity to help them during a tough time, he was auctioning off his 2010 NBA championship ring. As a guest of honor, I volunteered to participate with he and his wife. I think they delayed the ring announcement to November. He was that kind of guy. You looked at his body of work and you say, here is a guy who’s done all he has needed to do in the community. When you are around Bill Sharman, you saw him as a person. You learned from that.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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