After years of Finals frustration at the hands of the Celtics, it took an ex-Boston player-turned-coach to help lift Jerry West and the L.A. Lakers to a championship.
Former Celtic Bill Sharman, the Lakers’ new coach, was crucial to the cause as stars Wilt Chamberlain and West put it all together for a championship in 1971-72. After longtime Lakers star Elgin Baylor retired nine games into the season due to injuries and age, Sharman put in a unique gameplan.
With Chamberlain (35) and West (33) nearing 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 the Lakers romped through the season. Los Angeles won 69 games, a league record that would stand for almost a quarter-century. It set another league record with 33 straight victories from Nov. 5, 1971 to Jan. 7, 1972.
Chamberlain led the league in field goal percentage (64.9) and rebounding (19.2), while Goodrich (25.9 ppg) and West (25.8 ppg) handled the bulk of the scoring.
Los Angeles dispatched Chicago with a sweep in the conference semifinals, then bested the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals as Chamberlain outdueled fellow big man (and future Laker) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Knicks, without Willis Reed, proved no match for L.A. in The Finals as the Lakers claimed their first championship since moving from Minneapolis in 1960.
Eastern Conference semifinals
Boston defeated Atlanta (4-2)
New York defeated Baltimore (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Milwaukee defeated Golden State (4-1)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Chicago (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
New York defeated Boston (4-1)
Western Conference finals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Milwaukee (4-2)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated New York (4-1)
Points — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee (34.8)
Assists — Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers (9.7)
Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers (19.2)
FG% — Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers (64.9)
FT% — Jack Marin, Chicago (89.4)
Most Valuable Player — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks
Rookie of the Year — Sidney Wicks, Portland Trail Blazers
Coach of the Year — Bill Sharman, Los Angeles Lakers
All-Star Game MVP — Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers
Finals MVP — Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers