Legendary Moments: Lakers set NBA record with 33rd straight win
The Los Angeles Lakers weren’t getting any younger as they entered the 1971-72 season. Wilt Chamberlain was 35, Jerry West 33. Team captain Elgin Baylor, 37, would be forced to retire eight games into the season because of bad knees.
But new coach Bill Sharman made several key moves to invigorate the Lakers. He inserted Gail Goodrich into the starting lineup to take some of the scoring load off West and allow him to concentrate on playmaking, and convinced Chamberlain to focus on playing defense and setting up his teammates, rather than scoring. With young Jim McMillian stepping into Baylor’s forward spot opposite rebounder Happy Hairston, the Lakers got hot early — and stayed hot.
On Nov. 5, 1971, the Lakers beat the Baltimore Bullets 110-106, and they did not lose a game for more than two months. On Dec. 12, they beat Atlanta 104-95 for their 21st in a row, breaking the NBA record of 20 set by Milwaukee a year earlier.
On Dec. 22, they beat the Bullets 127-120 to make it 27 in a row, surpassing the longest winning steak in major league sports, 26 games by baseball’s 1916 New York Giants. They extended their streak to 33 consecutive wins by beating the Hawks 134-90 on Jan. 7, 1972, before finally losing to the Bucks 120-104 two nights later.
“We knew it had to end sometime. I would trade all the records for a championship,” declared Sharman. No such deal was necessary — the Lakers finished the season at 69-13, at the time an NBA record, and won the championship by beating New York in five games in the NBA Finals.
The 1972 crown was the Lakers’ first since the franchise moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.