100 days of hoops, hardwood

100 Days of Hoops: Day 33, Winning Streak

On Halloween 1971, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Golden State Warriors, 109-105.  The Lakers went to 6-3, but no one knew this would end up being Elgin Baylor’s last game and four days later, Baylor announced retirement.

“I was depriving Jim McMillan of playing time,” said Baylor.

The day after Baylor’s retirement, the Lakers beat the Washington Bullets by four and they never lost again until January 9, 1972.

In the meanwhile, the Lakers won on an average of seventeen points against their opponents.  A couple of dates that made the Lakers 33-game winning streak that more impressive:

On December 12, the Lakers won its 21st in a row and broke the Milwaukee Bucks record the previous season for longest winning streak in NBA history. Ten days later on December 22, they defeated the Bullets for its 27th straight win, which became the longest winning streak in sports history, surpassing the New York Giants in 1916.

“That team emitted so much confidence, man,” said Knicks guard Walt Frazier, who often guarded Jerry West. “They methodically overwhelmed you. Chamberlain was doing his thing. [West and Goodrich] were dynamic. As time went on, it was uncanny just how easily they were winning games.”

“The players are taking pride in the winning streak,” head coach Bill Sharman said. “Wilt is saying, ‘C’mon, let’s keep it going.'”

The Lakers were bound to drop one after dominating the Atlanta Hawks for the 33rd straight win.  The Lakers were in a middle of a road trip and dropped a game two nights later.

The Bucks gave the Lakers its first loss in 1972.

“The idea was to have Kareem pressing their outlet pass so they couldn’t run and to always have one of our forwards crashing the boards,” said Milwaukee forward John Block.

“We knew it had to end sometime. I would trade all the records for a championship,” declared Sharman.

That tradeoff was never a problem, as the Lakers took home the NBA record in wins at the time with 69 and won its first championship since the move from Minneapolis. The Lakers beat the Knicks in five games and even though Elgin Baylor retired before the winning streak, he still received a ring for contributing to the season.

Many fans assume the players were all close-knit and like a family, like the 2012-13 Miami Heat, who won 27-straight games and a championship.

“That wasn’t the case at all. People went their own ways,” Jerry West says. Gail Goodrich can attest to that.

“We were separate, but not any more than normal,” Goodrich recalls. “We didn’t hang out together. Wilt was single and there were a couple other single guys. Someone players are obviously closer than others.”

It didn’t matter what they were like off the court, but on the court, the unit exhibited basketball poetry, dominance and pride.

“I’m proud of that ’72 season,” Chamberlain told the Chicago Tribune years later. “That’s a record I don’t think anyone will come close to breaking.”

Even if the Heat were pretty close in 2013, etch this quote in stone.

The Big Dipper has spoken and helped rebound a dark period of the Lakers history, one with many Finals appearances and zero championships, since then the Lakers have won eleven in Los Angeles and still hold the record for the longest winning streak in NBA history.

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