Led by the imposing Wilt Chamberlain at center and the high-scoring guard tandem of Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers set an NBA record by winning 33 consecutive games. Their remarkable run began on Nov. 5 with a 110-106 win over the Baltimore Bullets and did not end until more than two months later, when the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Lakers 120-104 on Jan. 9.
The Lakers won their last 14 games of November, all 16 games during December and their first three games of January to obliterate the previous NBA record of 20 straight wins, set by Milwaukee one year earlier.
Coached by former Boston Celtics great Bill Sharman, who had replaced Joe Mullaney after the Lakers failed to win the 1971 NBA title, Los Angeles actually lost one of the greatest players of all time early in the 1971-72 season. Legendary forward Elgin Baylor, his legs sapped of their spring by injury, retired after playing just nine games early in the season. It took two players to pick up the slack-second-year forward Jim McMillian stepped to the fore and averaged 18.8 ppg, while veteran forward Happy Hairston, asked to focus on rebounding, averaged 15 per game over the second half of the season and 13.1 rpg overall. Together, they did a solid job making up for the loss of a Hall of Famer.
The Lakers' strength, however, was at the other three positions. Goodrich ranked fifth in the league in scoring at 25.9 ppg, with West tied for sixth at 25.8. Though Chamberlain averaged only 14.8 ppg, he led the league in rebounding at 19.2 rpg and in field goal percentage at .649. He also was a defensive mainstay who focused on playing outstanding team basketball at both ends of the floor. West, meanwhile, led the league in assists at 9.7 apg and Goodrich ranked third in free throw percentage at .850. As for a bench, the Lakers' reserves included Flynn Robinson, future NBA coaches Pat Riley and Jim Cleamons, future broadcaster Keith Erickson and frontcourtmen John Q. Trapp and LeRoy Ellis.
After opening the season at 6-3, the Lakers ran away from the field with their 33-game winning streak and rolled to a 69-13 record, the best in NBA history until the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls won 72 games. The Lakers topped the NBA in scoring (121.0 ppg), rebounding (56.4 rpg), assists (27.2 apg) and point differential (+12.3 ppg). They were 36-5 at home, 2-1 on neutral courts and an amazing 31-7 on the road-the Lakers' .816 road winning percentage stands as the best in NBA history.
The Lakers breezed through the playoffs, sweeping the Chicago Bulls in the first round, beating the Bucks in six games in the conference finals and then defeating the New York Knicks 4-1 in the NBA Finals. It was the team's first NBA championship since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and the franchise's first since 1954. Sharman was voted Coach of the Year, Chamberlain was named MVP of the Finals, West was voted to the All-NBA First Team and Chamberlain to the All-Defensive First Team.