We take a deep rewind to the Lakers’ 1971-72 NBA season, which bore witness to the longest winning streak in American major sports.
The Lakers’ 33 game streak is considered a legend. At first glance, it might seem like a piece of outrageous folklore – the type that captivates both old heads and the young ‘uns alike.
For some it brings back the memories of watching the game – for the others, it is a testament to how great that 1971-72 Lakers roster was. Even after a tough first half of the year, they quickly turned it around in the second.
With Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor getting old, a lot of the responsibility fell on the shoulders of Jerry West. He himself was injured for the whole of the postseason. A month and a half after the conference final loss, head coach Joe Mullaney was relieved of his duties.
Things seemed to fall apart at the seams. Injuries, coaching ineptitude, and overall lackadaisical attitude by the players meant that the situation was quite dire.
Things took a turn when HOF Bill Sharman was appointed Head Coach. Already a controversial appointment, Sharman and his brand of basketball did not suit the aging Lakers roster. In fact, this fast pace counter-attacking brand of basketball did not suit Baylor so much so that he retired from the game.
Personnel changes and attitude adjustments were needed. When brought in, the squad made strides towards a legendary streak.
Elgin Baylor retired after the Warriors (Cazzie Russell) beat the Lakers 109-105 on 10/31/71. LA then went on their 33-gm winning streak that ended with a 120-104 loss to Milwaukee/Kareem 1/9/72. pic.twitter.com/Smk09276Wk
— Dan Ivie (@boxscoreguy) March 19, 2020
The 2012-13 Heat and the 2015-16 Warriors are the 2 teams to come closest to this mark
The Lakers were the first team to ever go undefeated in a month. A record that was soon matched, by themselves the next month. To bring such a drastic change within a squad that was so languid in their approach to training was commendable.
Bringing them to win with such ease, even greater. To make Wilt Chamberlain stay back for practice on a day off after a victory? Probably the greatest achievement by Bill Sharman.
Since the streak ended in 1972, only 2 teams have ever come close in the NBA to match it. One was the 12-13 Miami Heat winning 27 games, and the other was the 15-16 warriors who won 28 straight. In the other three sports too, no one has come close to this achievement in the past 50 years.
The 20-21 season is still young, and there may be a team gearing up for such a run. But with the league so tightly contested, there is a high chance that the record may stand till the end of time.
The winning streak was snapped by the Milwaukee Bucks led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – a future Laker
The 1971 world champions were a force to reckon with. They had future HOF Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading them, along with Oscar Roberson and Bob Dandridge.
They had just won the Western Conference finals five months ago against the same Lakers roster. The Lakers had multiple back to back to back games in their 33 game streak, and fatigue caught up to them. There is no shame in losing though, the Bucks were defending champions after all.
A brief blip of losing 3 in the next 5 later, they go on a 8 game winning streak, and end the season 69-13, a record only broken by the Chicago Bulls 24 years later. The 1971-72 Lakers are quite possibly one of the least spoken high achievers.