The death of Ralph Branca this week hit somewhat close to home as it got me to thinking about one of the classiest — if not classiest — people I’ve ever dealt with in this business in Bill Sharman.
Sharman died three years ago at the age of 87. Since he was a 1944 Porterville (Calif.) High graduate, I got to know him rather well over the years when I covered him at the Porterville Recorder.
Before Sharman went onto a legendary career with the Boston Celtics and coaching the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1972 NBA title (that team won 33 straight games, a major professional sports record that still stands), he was a teammate of Branca’s.
Sharman was called up at the end of the year when the Brooklyn Dodgers expanded their roster. Sharman never actually got into a game — so he holds the distinction of being ejected from a Major League game without actually participating in one.
But Sharman was on the bench when Branca gave up the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson, someone Sharman also got to know fairly well.
The death of Branca got me to thinking about Sharman and when I think of Sharman, I think of my all-time favorite Sharman story involving Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mal Florence, another great guy who was a character. It’s a story I’ve shared many times.
One time when Florence was covering the Lakers, he was asked to take a female college intern along. The female intern was impressed with how Florence was able to type his story during the game and asked how he was able to do this.
This was a time when TV timeouts were first being used, so Florence replied he just signals down to Sharman when he needs a timeout so he can write his story.
When it came time for the TV timeout, Florence wildly gestured as if to signal to Sharman to call timeout and sure enough, Sharman stood up as if to call timeout at Florence’s request.
The astonished female intern came to the Times the next day and told everyone, “you won’t believe it, Mal tells Bill Sharman when to call timeout!”
It’s always good to take a timeout to think of people like Branca and Sharman.
— Charles Whisnand