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Pro Basketball

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33! A streak to remember

Issue Date: October 16, 1991

Sports Illustrated Flashback

In November of 1971, the Los Angeles Lakers went on a roll. Twenty-eight years later, their 33-game win streak is still the longest in pro sports history.

GAME 1 VS. BALTIMORE

110-106

Nov. 5, 1971: A day before, with Los Angeles at 6-3 in the young season, Laker legend Elgin Baylor, beset by bad knees, announces his retirement. Forward Jim McMillian steps into the starting lineup against Baltimore and provides a 22- point, 13-rebound performance. L.A. gets another boost from the bench when guard Flynn Robinson gets 10 points, sixassists.

GAME 2 AT GOLDEN STATE

105-89

Nov. 6: The "new-look Lakers," picking up the running game urged on them by coach Bill Sharman, waltz past the Warriors. Guard Jerry West scores 30.

GAME 3 VS. NEW YORK

103-96

Nov. 7: Center Wilt Chamberlain dominates with 22 rebounds, six blocked shots. "Things are going well now," notes the Dipper, age 35, after he subdues the Knicks' Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Walt Frazier. "You know, a guy who takes care of himself might play this game until he's 40."

GAME 4 AT CHICAGO

122-109

Nov. 9: The Bulls are buried by McMillian (28 points) and guard Gail Goodrich (24 points). In the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, writer Mitch Chortkoff notes, "You sense that a trend is developing."

GAME 5 AT PHILADELPHIA

143-103

Nov. 10: The Lakers humiliate the 76ers, prompting Sharman to offer to call off practice the next day. The Lakers decline. Chamberlain questions some of Sharman's coaching techniques, butadds, "You can't argue with success, and we're 11-3."

GAME 6 VS. SEATTLE

115-107

Nov. 12: With the Sonics ahead 65-50, West triggers a rally. Chamberlain grabs 22 rebounds; McMillian (5) scores 27 points. With a brief moment in the limelight, seldom-used sub Pat Riley scores zero points in his six minutes.

GAME 7 AT PORTLAND

130-108

Nov. 13: Former Trail Blazer Leroy Ellis, sold to the Lakers in the off-season for $75,000 and a draft pick, returns to a two-minute standing ovation and then embarrasses the Blazer brass by scoring 27 points.

GAME 8 VS. BOSTON

128-115

Nov. 14: With old nemesis Bill Russell looking on, Chamberlain gets 31 rebounds and goes 31 minutes without taking a shot. Says Wilt, "By 1980 I'll be a forgotten religion. I'll just be remembered vaguely as the guy who was lousy at the free throw line."

GAME 9 VS. CLEVELAND

108-90

Nov. 16: Cav rookie Austin Carr, the NBA's No. 1 draft pick, makes a tepid pro debut, with five points. He isn't the only cold performer. Chilly temperatures inside the Fabulous Forum bring loud complaints from the Lakers, who nevertheless stay hot enough to keep the streak burning.

GAME 10 VS. HOUSTON

106-99

Nov. 19: The Lakers nearly blow an 18-point fourth-period lead. "We played badly and we still won," says Sharman. "And I'll take it."

GAME 11 VS. MILWAUKEE

112-105

Nov. 21: Showdown. The Bucks, defending NBA champions, have won 10 of their last 11. The Lakers lead 59-58 after two periods. In halftime ceremonies, Elgin Baylor hands his Laker uniform to owner Jack Kent Cooke and gets a standing ovation from 17,505 in the Forum. Los Angeles dominates in the third period and wins despite 39 points by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "The Lakers seem to have jelled," says Kareem.

GAME 12 AT SEATTLE

139-115

Nov. 25: Goodrich scores 18 as the win sets a club record for consecutive victories. In the third quarter, Sonics guard Lee Winfield steals the ball and heads for an easy layup. Suddenly, from out of the firmament appears Chamberlain, who swats the shot away. The Lakers are ahead by 25 points at the time.

GAME 13 VS. DETROIT

132-113

Nov. 26: Wilt wreaks havoc with 31 points, 31 boards. "He played like he was in his second childhood," says Piston center Bob Lanier.

GAME 14 VS. SEATTLE

138-121

Nov. 28: First-time starter Riley steps in for a flu-ridden McMillian and scores 20 points. The Lakers complete the first perfect month in NBA history.

GAME 15 AT BOSTON

124-111

Dec. 1: Hoop prognosticators predict a Laker fall, but West, fully recovered from an ankle injury, scores 45.

GAME 16 AT PHILADELPHIA

131-116

Dec. 3: Prognosticators again predict the end. The Lakers fall behind by 17 points, but McMillian, just out of his sickbed, gets 41. The streak survives.

GAME 17 VS. PORTLAND

123-107

Dec. 5: As has become their custom, the Lakers play poorly against a weak team. But steady starting forward Happy Hairston leads the way with 20.

GAME 18 AT HOUSTON

125-120

Dec. 8: Against the 6-21 Rockets, the Lakers trail by three in the fourth. This time it's Goodrich to the rescue with 42 points. Says West (9 for 20), "There were midgets guarding me and I still couldn't score."

GAME 19 AT GOLDEN STATE

124-111

Dec. 9: The Lakers shoot 56% (their average for the streak thus far is 48.7%) and knock off the Warriors. Even Chamberlain is impressed. "A lot of streaks are predicated on luck," he says. "This one isn't. We haven't even had many close games."

GAME 20 VS. PHOENIX

126-117

Dec. 10: Wilt has spoken too soon: This one's close, very close.The Suns' Connie Hawkins misses a shot at the buzzer in regulation,and the game moves into OT. Goodrich has seven points in the last 2 1/2 minutes of overtime; 17,505 dance in the aisles at the Forum asthe Lakers tie the NBA record for consecutive wins, held by the1970-71 Bucks.

GAME 21 VS. ATLANTA

105-95

Dec. 12: The record breaker. West holds Pete Maravich to 19, scores 26 himself. At 96-95, Wilt slams down a demoralizing dunk, and No. 21 is history. Afterward, Wilt's mood is light: "I read that McDonald's has sold eight billion hamburgers. That means every person in the country would have to eat 25. And I've never had one, so some guy would have to eat 50."

GAME 22 AT PORTLAND

129-114

Dec. 14: Laker letdown. Sharman promises to give his starters some rest, but 26 L.A. turnovers force him to keep the first team on the floor for most of the game.

GAME 23 VS. GOLDEN STATE

129-99

Dec. 17: Nate Thurmond holds Wilt to seven points, but to no avail. The closest thing to a Laker crisis comes when McMillian leaves with a split shoe -- whereupon Riley enters, hits his first shot and finishes with 15.

GAME 24 AT PHOENIX

132-106

Dec. 18: The Suns are hot (11 of their last 13) and a record crowd packs the Vets Memorial Coliseum. The L.A. streak is now a major phenomenon. The "experts" again predict the end, noting that the Suns are big and physical. Not big enough. Lakers romp.

GAME 25 VS. PHILADELPHIA

154-132

Dec. 19: Everybody joins in as nine Lakers score; supersub Ellis gets 12 points, six rebounds. But Chamberlain reigns: 32 points, 34 rebounds. It is noted that Abdul-Jabbar will likely start the All- Star Game for the West, but Sixer forward Billy Cunningham says, "The way I see it, Wilt is the most valuable player in the league."

GAME 26 AT BUFFALO

117-103

Dec. 21: A new threshold beckons. With a win here, the Lakers will tie the record for the longest winning streak in professional sports, 26 in a row by the 1916 New York Giants baseball team. The game becomes the Wilt & West show, with 64 points between them.

GAME 27 AT BALTIMORE

127-120

Dec. 22: The Lakers bounce the Giants' record. But, says Chamberlain, "Look at it this way. We've won 27 in a row and we're one game ahead of the damn Milwaukee Bucks." Actually, the Bucks are 2 1/2 back in the West; already people are buzzing about the Lakers-Bucks clash in Milwaukee in two weeks.

GAME 28 VS. HOUSTON

137-115

Dec. 26: The Forum's in a frenzy as Wilt scores on an alley-oop from West, then off a behind-the-back feed from Goodrich. "We're the best entertainment package in town," says West. The Rockets' Calvin Murphy has to play the fall guy on a pick by John Trapp for Robinson (21).

GAME 29 VS. BUFFALO

105-87

Dec. 28: How big is this streak? On the previous afternoon, 14,500 show up at the Forum on a rainy day for a Laker workout. Just before tonight's game, the sellout gathering gives Sharman a spontaneous standing ovation as he steps onto the floor. Crowd goes home happy as Hairston scores 19, gets 14 rebounds.

GAME 30 AT SEATTLE

122-106

Dec. 30: Seattle's got beat-the-streak fever, and the crowd goes crazy as the Sonics go up 83-82 in the fourth. The fun stops there; a few minutes later it's 106-89 Lakers. A few minutes later, it's 30 in a row. (Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles in Pauley Pavilion, Bill Walton and UCLA are beating Ohio State 79-53, the Bruins' 23rd consecutive win in a streak that will reach 88.)

GAME 31 VS. BOSTON

122-113

Jan. 2, 1972: Led by center Dave Cowens, the Celtics -- hottest

team in the East -- erase most of a 24-point deficit and pull to 104-99. That's as close as they get.

GAME 32 AT CLEVELAND

113-103

Jan. 5: The Lakers dazzle observers even before the game starts by selling out the Cleveland Arena against the hapless Cavs. "It'll be different without all those empty seats," says Cleveland coach Bill Fitch. "I hope my players adjust." They do. The Cavs lead 99-94 until Chamberlain blocks four shots in less than two minutes and the Lakers score 15 straight.

GAME 33 AT ATLANTA

134-90

Jan. 7: The easiest win of the streak. "Our best game," says Sharman. Hawk coach Richie Guerin has seen all he needs to see: "I like (the Lakers) better than the Bucks now." It's time for the big battle.

GAME 34 AT MILWAUKEE

104-120

Jan. 9: Sunday afternoon, national TV. The Lakers go flat, and Kareem goes wild. Abdul-Jabbar scores 39 points as West (44), Hairston (52) and Goodrich (25) try to stop him. "It's not the streak," says Goodrich afterward. "It's the fact we lost to the team that's our biggest threat to a world title." Three months later the Lakers will get their revenge, beating the Bucks four games to two in the conference finals before knocking off the New York Knicks for the championship.

Issue Date: October 16, 1991



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