Best Ever?. . .

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Sharman knows a few things about basketball and winning championships.

He has been involved in the NBA since 1950, the USC All-American's rookie season.

Now a special consultant for the Lakers, he just earned his 14th championship ring. Only Red Auerbach, with 16, has more.

But Auerbach was never a player. He received his rings as a coach, general manager and president of the Boston Celtics.

Sharman's championship rings were earned as follows:

* Four as an all-star guard with the Celtics.

* Three as a coach.

* Two as the Laker general manager.

* Three as the team's president.

* And two as special consultant.

Two of the rings Sharman won as a coach were from other leagues. He coached George Steinbrenner's Cleveland Pipers to an American Basketball League championship in 1962 and coached Bill Daniels' Utah Stars to an ABA title in 1971 before coaching the Lakers to an NBA title in 1972.

He was the Laker general manager from 1976-82 and then the team president until 1988.

If anyone is qualified to name the "best team ever" in the NBA, it may be Sharman.

So which team does Sharman rank the best ever?

He gives the edge to the 1971-72 Lakers with this season's Lakers finishing a very close second.

He says of all the other great teams in NBA history--Bill Russell's Celtics, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers--the '72 Lakers are the only team that had a player who could match up against Shaquille O'Neal.

"As good as Bill Russell was, and he was the best defensive center I ever saw, at 220 or 225 he just didn't have the size to go up against Shaq," Sharman said.

"Wilt Chamberlain had the size, and the ability, to guard Shaq."

Sharman said there are many similarities between the 1972 and 2001 Lakers.

The way Sharman sees it, this season's Laker team is a reincarnation of the '72 team.

"Look at the centers--two great physical specimens who both had trouble shooting free throws," he said. "Then there's Kobe Bryant and Jerry West, both good shooters, good passers and good defensive players.

"And since Derek Fisher came back from his injury after having time to work out and work on his shot, he can be compared to Gail Goodrich. Maybe not quite as good yet, but very similar.

"Rick Fox can be compared to Jim McMillian--same size, both good outside shooters who run the court well. And then you've got Horace Grant and Happy Hairston, the power forwards. Both good rebounders who get a lot of points around the basket.

"On our '72 team, we had five guys who could really shoot from distance and would have been excellent three-point shooters if we had that rule then. They were West, Goodrich, McMillian, Pat Riley and Flynn Robinson.

"It was also a very unselfish team. Wilt could have led the team in scoring, but he sacrificed scoring to rebound, block shots, play defense and start the fastbreak.

"West sacrificed scoring too. He led the league in assists that season, the only time he did that."

Elgin Baylor was part of the 1971-72 team, but he played only nine games because of a knee injury, then retired.

The '72 Lakers won 69 regular-season games, then an NBA record, and won 33 in a row, still a record.

"And we did it when there were only [17] teams in the league," Sharman said. "Now there are 29. And as for that 33 in a row, the second best since then is only 19 in a row."

The Lakers won 19 in a row last season, and did it again this season, counting the end of the regular season and their 11-0 playoff run.

"Another similarity between the two teams is we lost the first game of the NBA Finals to the New York Knicks, then won the next four games," Sharman said.

But back then, the format for the finals was 2-2-1-1-1, so the Lakers won Game 5 at home.

The '72 Lakers lost two playoff games during the earlier rounds.

As for the coaches, there are more similarities. Phil Jackson came from a championship team, the Bulls, was given a five-year contract and won a title right away.

Sharman came from a championship team, the Utah Stars, was given a five-year contract and won right away.

But the salaries don't quite match. Jackson makes $6 million a year. For his championship season, Sharman made a base salary of $55,000, plus $30,000 in playoff and bonus money.

Jackson has won consecutive titles with the Lakers, Sharman did not. The Lakers were defeated in five games in the 1973 NBA Finals by the New York Knicks.

"People have asked, 'If that '72 team was so great, why didn't it win again?' " Sharman said. "Well, for one thing, we were an old team. Wilt was 36, West 32 or 33.

"And we had a lot of injuries the next season. Happy had a knee injury, McMillian a groin injury and West had a groin injury during the Finals."

As for other teams that rank with the Lakers, he cites the Minneapolis Lakers of the early '50s with George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Slater Martin, and mentions his Celtic teams of the late '50s and early '60s.

"We had seven Hall of Famers, all on the same team," Sharman said.

They were Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey and Sharman.

"We had maybe the best fundamental and fastbreaking team ever, but we weren't nearly as strong physically or as athletic as the two Laker teams," Sharman said.

Sharman calls the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, coached by his USC teammate Alex Hannum and featuring Chamberlain, Luke Jackson, Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer, "the most physical team ever in the league."

He says the Celtics of the '80s had the best front line ever in Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Of course, he also puts the Showtime Lakers featuring Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy among the elite.

"As good as those Laker teams were, again you have to go back to the center position," Sharman said. "Kareem didn't have the muscle to guard Shaq.

"And as great as Michael Jordan was, his Chicago teams didn't have anyone who could guard Shaq.

"As I said, Wilt probably is the only other center in the history of the league who could guard Shaq."

Sharman would like the 1972 Lakers' chances against the 2001 Lakers.

"But just barely," Sharman said. "If they met in the Finals, it would be a seven-game series and the seventh game would be a tossup."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Dare to Compare

How the teams that Bill Sharman considers the greatest in NBA history--the 1971-72 Lakers and the 2000-01 Lakers--compare statistically in the regular season and playoffs. NBA ranking for that season in parentheses and league average in italic type preceding the points, field goal and rebound categories:

REGULAR SEASON

*--*

1971-72 Lakers 2000-2001 Lakers 17 Teams in NBA 29 Teams in NBA 69-13, .841 (1st) Win-Loss Record, Pct. 56-26, .683 (T2nd) 33 (NBA record) Longest Winning Streak 8 110.2 NBA Scoring Avg. That Season 94.8 121.0 (1st) Points Scored 100.6 (3rd) 108.7 (6th) Points Allowed 97.2 (23rd) +12.3 Point Differential +5.4 .454 NBA Field Goal Pct. That .443 Season .490 (2nd) Field Goal Pct. .465 (3rd) .432 (2nd) Opponent Field Goal Pct. .438 (11th) .734 (15th) Free Throws .684 (29th) 51.1 NBA Rebound Avg. That Season 42.5 56.4 (1st) Rebounds 44.7 (5th) +4.0 Rebound Differential +3.4

*--*

PLAYOFFS

*--*

1971-72 Lakers 2000-2001 Lakers 12-3, .800 Win-Loss Record, Pct. 15-1, .938 4 Longest Winning Streak 11 106.6 Points Scored 103.4 103.4 Points Allowed 90.6 +3.2 Point Differential +12.8 .429 Field Goal Pct. .468 .444 Opponent Field Goal Pct. .408 .750 Free Throws .676 54.0 Rebounds 48.2 +0.9 Rebound Differential +8.0

*--*

LINEUPS

1971-72 Lakers

Player: Jim McMillian

Ht / Wt: 6-5 220

Pts: 18.8

Position: Forward

*

Player: Happy Hairston

Ht / Wt: 6-7 225

Pts: 13.1

Position: Forward

*

Player: Wilt Chamberlain

Ht / Wt: 7-1 275

Pts: 14.8

Position: Center

*

Player: Jerry West

Ht / Wt: 6-3 185

Pts: 25.8

Position: Guard

*

Player: Gail Goodrich

Ht / Wt: 6-1 195

Pts: 25.9

Position: Guard

KEY RESERVES

Player: Leroy Ellis

Ht / Wt: 6-11 216

Pts: 4.6

Position: Forward

*

Player: Pat Riley

Ht / Wt: 6-4 205

Pts: 6.7

Position: Guard

*

Player: Flynn Robinson

Ht / Wt: 6-1 190

Pts: 9.9

Position: Guard

2000-2001 Lakers

Player: Rick Fox

Ht / Wt: 6-7 240

Pts: 9.6

Position: Forward

*

Player: Horace Grant

Ht / Wt: 6-10 245

Pts: 8.5

Position: Forward

*

Player: Shaquille O'Neal

Ht / Wt: 7-1 315

Pts: 28.7

Position: Center

*

Player: Kobe Bryant

Ht / Wt: 6-7 210

Pts: 28.5

Position: Guard

*

Player: Derek Fisher

Ht / Wt: 6-1 200

Pts: 11.5

Position: Guard

KEY RESERVES

Player: Robert Horry

Ht / Wt: 6-10 235

Pts: 5.2

Position: Forward

*

Player: Brian Shaw

Ht / Wt: 6-6 200

Pts: 5.3

Position: Guard

*

Player: Ron Harper

Ht / Wt: 6-6 215

Pts: 6.5

Position: Guard

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