Wilt Chamberlain & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on how Bucks ending the Lakers 33-game winning streak caused frustration from Wilt Chamberlain

Ending 33-game winning streaks is fun, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar found out things don’t happen the way you expect them to. For example, when they ended the L.A. Lakers’ historic 33-game winning streak in 1972, it almost cost Kareem his friendship with Wilt Chamberlain. 

Ending the Lakers 33-game winning streak

Winning streaks that made the NBA history books are special but stopping it is even more special. The Lakers, led by Wilt Chamberlain, Happy Hairston, and Jerry West, were riding on a 33-game winning streak in 1972. Law of averages tells us they were bound to lose at some point in the season and the Bucks, led by Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ended that streak. 

Abdul-Jabbar shared what happened in that game and after that on his website. There were chippy moments, but it was clearly Bucks’ day. The score ended 120-104, with Kareem leading the team with 39 points, 20 rebounds, and five assists. Meanwhile, Chamberlain had only 12 points, 12 rebounds, and two assists. More than ending the winning streak, Kareem sent the league on notice: there’s a new sheriff in town. 

Animosity grew as Kareem turned into a superstar 

It was like the passing of the torch between Wilt and Kareem. Chamberlain used to own the league, but at that time, Kareem was starting to get into his own. It was a battle between pride and ego: a big brother that used to be good, but now his little brother was about to own him and snatch that throne. 

“But as my fame and accomplishments increased, so did his animosity. Winning the championship the year before, in my second year in the NBA, seemed to put him over the top. We had won a championship before his team had. He started taking verbal potshots at me with reporters. Once during a game, he threw a punch at me. I’d been boxing him out and during the tussle, our arms got tangled up. He jerked free and threw a half-hearted punch, which didn’t connect. I don’t think he intended to hit me, but his anger in the moment brought out his latent hostility toward me.”

There was even a time Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged he learned how to be competitive after seeing Wilt refusing to lose in a pickup game. 

The Stilt had a 10-year headstart over Kareem. In that game, Chamberlain was in the twilight end of his career. It would have been a different matchup if it was years earlier. But as superstars come and go, they will be giving way to the younger generation who would carry the torch in the following years. 

Both Hall-of-Famers carved their own path and deserved their place in history. It was nice knowing that despite the animosity in games, the two never lost respect towards one another. After all, it takes a great player to know one.