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“The 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game win streak remains the longest in all 4 major American sports leagues”: How Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain rallied the Lakeshow after Elgin Baylor’s October 1971 retirement

Arun Sharma

"The 1971-72 Lakers' 33-game win streak remains the longest in all 4 major American sports leagues": How Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain rallied the Lakeshow after Elgin Baylor's October 1971 retirement

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.

Also Read: “Everything is cool till the book comes out”: Charles Barkley makes fun of controversies whenever NBA biographies are released

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.

Also Read: “Wilt Chamberlain would allow himself to be influenced by others’: Julius Erving reveals just how enigmatic of a player the Lakers legend was

About the author

Arun Sharma

Arun Sharma


Arun Sharma is an NBA Editor at The SportsRush. A double degree holder and a digital marketer by trade, Arun has always been a sports buff. He fell in love with the sport of basketball at a young age and has been a Lakers fan since 2006. What started as a Kobe Bryant obsession slowly turned into a lifelong connection with the purple and gold. Arun has been an ardent subscriber to the Mamba mentality and has shed tears for a celebrity death only once in his life. He believes January 26, 2020, was the turning point in the passage of time because Kobe was the glue holding things together. From just a Lakers bandwagoner to a basketball fanatic, Arun has spent 16 long years growing up along with the league. He thinks Stephen Curry has ruined basketball forever, and the mid-range game is a sight to behold. Sharma also has many opinions about football (not the American kind), F1, MotoGP, tennis, and cricket.

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