SI Vault
Peter Carry
December 13, 1971
Old pro Bill Sharman, the new coach, keys his program to plenty of training and, sure enough, the breakaway Lakers are out to prove that practice makes perfect
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December 13, 1971

Getting Up And Going After A Title

Old pro Bill Sharman, the new coach, keys his program to plenty of training and, sure enough, the breakaway Lakers are out to prove that practice makes perfect

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Goodrich, the 6'1" guard whom the Lakers call Stumpy, leads the team in scoring. By sneaking away for quick lay-ups and by taking deft feeds from West to pop in his strange-looking jump shot—he curls the ball far over his head before he fires—he has become the NBA's fourth highest scorer (25.4 points a game) even though he still appears young enough to be King of the Hop.

"The running game really helps a small man," he says. " Sharman simply told me to shoot the ball off the break whenever I felt I had my shot even if the other guys weren't around yet to rebound. He knew that if I did that, pretty soon the other guys would begin to come down the court fast, too. They'd know they'd have to hurry to get in on the action—and everyone wants to be in on the action."

Goodrich was no longer running ahead of the rest of the Lakers when they came East last week for one of those NBA scheduling atrocities, a two-game, three-day, 6,000-mile road trip to Boston and Philadelphia. Airport bystanders must have wondered if they were witnessing the return of the German General Stall from Berchtesgaden, since most of the Lakers (excluding Happy Hairston in his $2,000 ranch mink) wear the same sort of leather overcoats, favored by Erwin Rommel. Inmates at the Sheraton-Philadelphia Hotel no doubt got a distinctly different impression. In the lobby, where a water bed was on display, the Lakers were involved in something that looked like the Easter Bunny's slumber party. During the day, when the team seemed always on its way to practice or just returning, players would bounce around the aquatic mattress in their Forum blue and gold warmup suits, which are really not blue and gold at all. The gold is a brilliant yellow and Forum blue is regal purple. It is called blue because Laker Owner Jack Kent Cooke does not like the word purple (he likes the color, however). Since Cooke is the man inside the Forum with all the green, he can call purple anything he wants.

In Boston, Los Angeles' new fast break was stymied by the old masters of the running game, the Celtics. But then West, whose shooting had been slightly hampered by the aftereffects of last spring's knee operation and two sprained ankles early this season, broke loose for his first big scoring game of the year with 45 points. The Lakers won 124-110.

Two nights later in Philadelphia, Los Angeles geared up its running game in the second half after the 76ers had built a wide lead. Trailing 82-65 with 8:24 remaining to play in the third period, Sharman replaced Hairston with 6'11" Leroy Ellis to help Chamberlain with the rebounding. Ellis blocked Philly's tough Bill Bridges off the boards and pulled in 11 rebounds to go with Wilt's 25 while McMillian, Goodrich and West burned the 76ers with 15 fast-break baskets in the closing 20 minutes. By the end of the third quarter Los Angeles had already taken the lead and went on to win easily 131-116.

Ellis' role in the victory was indication of another Laker strength—depth. While competition from the ABA and expansion in the NBA has weakened most benches, Los Angeles has put together a strong one. The Lakers, a team that in the past three years tied the record for casualties previously held by the Demolition Derby, should not be caught short again. All of the substitutes, except first-round draftee Jim Cleamons, have been NBA starters in the past and most were obtained in waiver deals or through transactions in which Los Angeles gave second-round draft choices and cash to teams hard pressed for money, something the Lakers have plenty of. In the Philadelphia game, for example, another sub, bewigged Flynn Robinson, relieved Goodrich late in the third period and scored two consecutive 17' jump shots that brought the Lakers from a 93-90 deficit into the lead they never relinquished.

Just before the final buzzer of the 131-116 victory, Chamberlain picked off a loose ball and slammed home a dunk for his eighth point of the game—he tried three field goals in all—and Dave Zinkoff, the flamboyant Spectrum public-address announcer, said simply, "Dipper Dunk." That was a common call when Wilt played for Philadelphia not long ago, but now that he has awakened to a new game in Los Angeles it already has the distant ring of nostalgia.

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