Tip-Off Timer: Lakers' Amazing 33-Game Win Streak May Never Be Topped
Imagine if an NBA team was in the midst of a 33-game winning streak now. There would be a traffic jam of satellite trucks. Press credential requests would be coming in from Albania to Zimbabwe.
But when the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers reeled off a record 33 straight wins, there was just one traveling beat writer. And even he went home after the Lakers' legendary streak came to an end Jan. 9, 1972 at Milwaukee.
"I saw Mal Florence, the beat writer for the (Los Angeles) Times, leaving the hotel," then-Lakers coach Bill Sharman said of being in the lobby of the team hotel a day after his team's streak finally ended. "I said, 'Mal, where are you going? This road trip isn't over.' He said to me, ' Bill, we don't cover losers,' and he walked away. But then he turned around and laughed."
The Lakers had plenty to laugh about that season. They rolled to a 69-13 record, then the best in NBA history, and won the team's first title since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.
The Chicago Bulls eventually broke the Lakers' single-season mark by going 72-10 in 1995-96. But don't expect any team ever to top the Lakers' incredible winning streak that started with a 110-106 win over the Baltimore Bullets on Nov. 5, 1971 and went on for more than two months.
"I always believe records are made to be broken, but I'm not sure ours is going to get broken,'' said guard Gail Goodrich, who was joined in the team's starting lineup by two other eventual Hall of Famers in backcourt mate Jerry West and center Wilt Chamberlain.
The Lakers had another future Hall of Famer on the roster until forward Elgin Baylor retired nine games into the season due to knee trouble. With the team 6-3, Baylor was replaced in the lineup by forward Jim McMillian, and the Lakers immediately began their record run with the win over the Bullets.
That actually was the Lakers' closest game during the streak, although they did have a 126-117 overtime win over Phoenix on Dec. 10, 1971, enabling them to tie the NBA record Milwaukee had set the previous season of 20 straight wins. Other than that, the Lakers rarely broke a sweat, winning 23 times by 10 or more points.
"We had an incredible run," Goodrich said. "We just played with a great deal of swagger."
The streak finally ended when Lakers fell 120-104 to the Bucks in one of the most anticipated NBA regular-season games ever. The Bucks were the defending champions and hadn't been too happy about seeing the Lakers topple their not-too-old record.
"It was a tremendously hyped game for those days around the country," said then-Milwaukee guard Jon McGlocklin. "It was national TV on Sunday. The game was very competitive, and we pulled away at the end.''
But the Bucks' joy was shortlived. The Lakers won the final three regular-season meetings between the teams and beat Milwaukee 4-2 in the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers then polished off their memorable season with a 4-1 NBA Finals win over New York. Since then, nobody has come close to equaling their 33-game winning streak.
Houston in 2007-08 put together a 22-game run. But that only got the Rockets two-thirds of the way into the NBA record book.
The Lakers' mark remains the longest winning streak for any team in the four major pro sports. Second on the list is the 26 straight baseball's New York Giants won in 1916.
"I'm not a betting person, but I would put some money on (the Lakers') record lasting a while," said Jim Cleamons, a Lakers rookie guard in 1971-72 and now an assistant coach for the team.