Foul Shot: William Sharman v. C. Schmidt & Sons

Today’s post was written by Matthew DiBiase, archives specialist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

A new exhibit showcasing the impact sports have had on America has opened at the National Archives Museum. All American: The Power of Sports spans centuries of United States history and features more than 75 original items from National Archives’ holdings. The exhibit is free and open to the public and will be on view through January 7, 2024.

William “Bill” Sharman was a legendary player during the early years of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was born in Texas in 1926 but his family later relocated to California where he went to school. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Sharman went to the University of Southern California where he starred in baseball and basketball. Bill Sharman played minor league baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1950 to 1955, but it was as a basketball player that Sharman made his name as an athlete.

He was selected by the Washington Capitols in the 1950 NBA draft and played one season for them in 1950/51. When the Capitols folded, he was acquired by the Fort Wayne Pistons who promptly traded him to the Boston Celtics.

Playing guard Bill Sharman along with Bob Cousy formed one of the most dynamic backcourt combos in NBA history. Sharman was a dead-eye shooter who led the NBA in free-throw shooting seven times in his 11-season playing career. Sharman helped the Celtics reach the NBA playoffs ten times; make the NBA finals five times from 1956/57 to 1960/61; and helped Boston win four NBA titles in 1956/57 and 1958/59 to 1960/61.

Bill Sharman was an eight-time NBA All-Star and earned All-NBA team honors seven times as a player.

In 1960 Sharman was looking to earn extra money by modeling for ads. On January 6, 1960, he posed for a series of photos and after finishing the photo session he signed a two-page release form and was paid $125 for posing.

Months later (unbeknownst to Bill Sharman) one of the photographs Sharman posed for was used by C. Schmidt & Sons, Incorporated for a beer ad campaign titled One Man in Four. When Sharman discovered this, he was upset that his likeness was being used to promote alcoholic beverages.

On December 13, 1960, Bill Sharman filed a civil suit against C. Schmidt & Sons, Incorporated alleging that the company damaged his reputation by using his photo for the beer ad since Sharman liked to give talks to youth groups counseling them against drinking. Sharman sought $75,000 in damages and $25,000 in emotional damages.

On January 30, 1961, C. Schmidt & Sons, Incorporated answered Sharman’s civil complaint denying Sharman’s allegations.

After months of filings and motions by both sides it was agreed that the case should go to a bench trial.

On March 4 and 5, 1963 both sides presented evidence and testimony before Judge Harold K. Wood who would decide the case. Seen here is a portion of plaintiff Bill Sharman’s testimony during the hearings.

Page 29 of Sharman’s Testimony filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Civil Case File No. 28968, William Sharman v. C. Schmidt & Sons Inc., Boxes 2932-2933 (NAID: 565160).

On April 5, 1963, Judge Wood ruled that since Bill Sharman signed a release form then he had no standing to contest C. Schmidt & Sons, Incorporated’s use of the photo for the ad campaign and therefore his good name and reputation were not damaged by the ad campaign. Judge Wood ruled in favor of the defendants C. Schmidt & Sons, Incorporated.

After Bill Sharman retired as a player in 1961, he immediately went into coaching. In 1961/62 he led the Cleveland Pipers to the championship in the American Basketball League (ABL). After coaching college basketball from 1962/63 to 1965/66, he became the head coach of the San Francisco Warriors in the NBA and led them to the 1966/67 NBA finals (where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers). After coaching one more season with the Warriors he went to the American Basketball Association where he coached the Los Angeles (later Utah) Stars, leading them to the 1970/71 ABA championship. The following season he retuned to the NBA where he became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 1971/72 season the Lakers set an NBA record (which still stands) by winning 33 consecutive games and finishing the season with an NBA record 69 wins (later broken in 1995/96 by the Chicago Bulls) and the NBA title.

Bill Sharman became the second man in Pro Basketball history to lead teams to championships in three separate major basketball leagues.

Sharman was inducted twice into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and as a coach in 2004 (one of five men to earn such an honor).

Bill Sharman is considered by basketball historians as the man who invented modern basketball coaching. His innovations of the morning shoot-around; the use of film to correct and improve player performance and scouting opponent’s weaknesses; and the emphasis on proper dieting by his players are now standard coaching procedure at all levels of basketball play worldwide today.

Sharman retired from coaching in 1976 and worked in the Lakers front office until 1991. He died in 2013 at the age of 87.

The records featured in this blog post are located at the National Archives at Philadelphia. Interested in learning more or reviewing the records? Email for further research.

Case discussed in this post:
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Civil Case File No. 28968, William Sharman v. C. Schmidt & Sons Inc., Boxes 2932-2933 (NAID: 565160)

3 thoughts on “Foul Shot: William Sharman v. C. Schmidt & Sons

  1. very interesting history about a man that i remember from his coaching days only. I never knew any of the prior playing history nor the post coaching life-thanks–Jim Ullman

  2. I was thinking the other day that we might lose the last person who can tell the story of seeing Bill Russell play live in 10-20 years. Not to mention the players who came before him.

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