Through the heyday of Elgin Baylor, the Lakers had never been able to beat the rival Celtics in the NBA Finals. Baylor had been named to the All-NBA First Team 10 times in his career, but nine games into the 1971-72 season, he decided injuries and age (37) had caught up to him and announced his retirement. Bill Sharman, the old Celtic guard, had been brought to LA to instill a winner's attitude as coach. With Wilt Chamberlain (35) and Jerry West (33) in sight of the end of their careers, Sharman needed to fit the other pieces around his aging stars to win now. Forward Jim McMillian and Happy Hairston and guard Gail Goodrich were the perfect pieces, as was demonstrated when the Lakers went on a league-record 33-game winning streak that stretched from November 5 to January 7. The Lakers posted a 69-13 record, the best one-season record in NBA history. Chamberlain led the league in field goal percentage (.649) and rebounding (19.2), while Goodrich (25.9) and West (25.8) handled the bulk of the scoring.

The Lakers swept Chicago four straight and defeated Milwaukee in six games as Chamberlain outdueled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. New York defeated Baltimore and surprising Boston in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but without Willis Reed in the Finals, proved no match for the Lakers, who got finally got their Championship in five games.

WEST LEARNS LESSON ON TEAMWORK
Like Baylor, West had been brilliant in defeat for so many years in the NBA Finals, almost didn't seem right that he was no longer a dominant player when the Lakers finally won the Championship.

"I played terrible basketball in the Finals and we won," West said. "And that didn't seem to be justice for me personally, because I had contributed so much in other years when we lost. Now, when we won, I was just another piece of the machinery. It was particularly frustrating because I was playing so poorly that the team overcame me."

"But maybe that's what a team is all about."