Led by Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlin, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Pat Riley, and Jim McMillian, the 1971-72 Lakers are arguably the greatest team of all time. On Nov. 5, 1971, they beat the Baltimore Bullets 110-106. 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 streak 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.
But on Jan. 9, 1972, the historic stretch came to an end in a clash against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks. Lakers traveled to state of Wisconsin to face a competitive Bucks team, with captains Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
Unfortunately for them, the Bucks came ready to play and were determined not to be the next victim of the Lakers. Jabbar, Robertson, and Lucius Allen stamped their victory by impressively combining to scoring 36 points in the fourth quarter, giving the Bucks a 120-104 win over the Lakers.
Abdul-Jabbar finished the contest with 39 points, knocking down a total of 18 field goals against the mighty defense of Chamberlain. Allen (18 points) and Robertson (17) were also instrumental in halting the longest winning streak in NBA history at 33 games.
“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. The Lakers didn’t lose a game for over two months, going a combined 30-0 in November and December.
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.
During their streak, the Lakers outscored opponents by 16 points per game. 23 of the Lakers’ 33 wins came by double digits, including eight by at least 20 points and two by 40 or more.