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Bridges had barely said hello to Sharman before he was up and running for the Lakers. He played 26 minutes, scored nine points and had 16 rebounds his first night, and Sharman told him he would use him extensively as the third forward. Following Hairston's injury, the Lakers needed a dozen games to adjust to the absence of Happy's speed and to Bridges' stronger inside play. They lost six of those games—and swam briefly into the national consciousness again as a result—but have played solidly ever since, at least until last week.
Bridges also quickly found that his new teammates expected him to contribute in unaccustomed ways. On the night Hairston was injured the Lakers led the Bulls by a point as time was running out. "I'm not much of an outside shooter and I've never been the player who takes the crucial shot," said Bridges one day last week. "Suddenly there I was open in the corner and the ball came to me. I shot and hit the rim.
"Afterward I asked Erickson why I had been given the shot and he said, 'That's the way we play here. If you're open, you get it.' It was even Goodrich who passed it to me and that's highly unusual."
"Most unusual," laughed Riley, who overheard the line and repeated it for the benefit of Goodrich, who was standing nearby.
That is typical Laker humor—personal and direct. There had been more of the same early that morning as the team waited to start a bus ride into Detroit and the subject of Chamberlain's coat came up. Wilt's latest creation is of supple, bright yellow leather with leopardskin cuffs and collar. It has no buttons and ties around the middle like a bathrobe.
"I don't know exactly what the stuff is that Wilt's coat is made out of," said a Laker. "I think it is one of those animals they don't shoot anymore and after seeing it on Wilt I can understand why."
"I don't know what it is either," said a teammate. "All I know is I wash my car with one every Saturday."
Chamberlain's taste in shots is considerably more conservative these days than his taste in overcoats. He rarely tries his fallaway one-hander or his underhanded finger roll anymore. He limits himself mostly to dunks, tips and lay-ins, and even these are shot sparingly. To rank among the best shooters in the NBA listings this week, Chamberlain needed at least 440 field-goal attempts. He had 460. He will need 560 shots by the end of the season to win the accuracy title and possibly set a new record. He should make it—just barely.
"As it is now, I feel I've only got to shoot enough to keep guys honest," says Wilt, who spends most of his time rebounding and is averaging only seven shots and 12.9 points per game. "I think it's made guys a little complacent when they guard me, and I find dunks are sometimes easier for me to get than they ever were. Otherwise, I really don't know if I'm as good a shooter as I used to be. I'd guess I'm not as accurate with my fallaway as I was five years ago, but I'll never know because I don't take it much anymore. This team doesn't need me to do that.
"Sure, I'm careful how I shoot. I'm not about to throw the ball away. But it's not like Bill Russell says on TV, that I'm not willing to shoot as much because I'm worried about my percentage."