Catching up with The 1971-72 Lakers

April, 7, 2012
4/07/12
1:40
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The 1972 Lakers will be remembered for:

a) Ripping off 33 straight wins, about as safe as any record in sports, much less the NBA.

b) Providing Jerry West with his first championship.

c) Providing the franchise its first NBA title since moving to L.A.

d) All of the above... and even more.

The answer, by the way, is "d."

It's been 40 years since the 1972 Lakers, featuring West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, etc., etched an indelible identity as one of the best teams in league history. At halftime of Friday's game against the Rockets, that squad was formally honored for its greatness. Several members -- Jerry West, Goodrich, Jim McMillian, Pat Riley, Jim Cleamons, among others -- were on hand, along with people like Marge Hearn, widow of the late, great Chick Hearn.

Before the game, the media was given face time with several men of the hour. Below are some videos, plus the full transcript of our time with The Logo.


Ron Kuntz Collection/Getty Images
Jerry West, together with Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, headlined arguably a team some believe the best in NBA history.


Q: What stands out most from that season?

Jerry West: Obviously, winning 33 games in a row stands out more than anything. It's just something in your wildest imagination, you could not imagine that happening. I think that, the kind of ironic thing, we always seemed to have a bunch of little injuries along the way that wouldn't keep you from playing, but wouldn't let you play at your very best. For the most part, that team stayed really healthy. It was just a magical year. That's all it was. Everything worked. The games weren't close. A lot of players contributed and a lot of people got rest. We won games, they were all laughers, most of them. But that was really a unique team and everything went great for us that year. Nothing ugly happened at all.

Q: You've spoken before publicly about your difficulties enjoying the game. But when you look back to that year is it pure joy?

JW: Well, you know something? I loved to play the game. That's not what I didn't like. Playing the game was great, but I thin being involved in the management part of it, that's the most difficult thing to do. Somebody asked me one time, do [I] need a coach to motivate me? And the answer is "hell no." I didn't need anybody to motivate me. I think the difference is that you're trying to deal with 10 people that you go to war with every night. And also not to have a coach to try to get you to play. We had a lot of guys you didn't have to say very much to. They were gonna play. They played every night.

Q: How much did it hurt you personally that Elgin Baylor was forced to retire early in the season

JW: Well, for me, it was probably like a stake in my heart, frankly, when I heard he was going to retire.


I think probably the second thing that I thought about when I walked into the locker room [was], "Thank God, we finally won something we wanted to win." And then thinking about him and everything we shared and our other teammates had shared together. And I knew he was there in spirit, but not to have him out there going off the court, knowing we had won was a very difficult thing for me. He was someone that was always very special for me. Treated me great. And it's nice to have teammates and people like that that you interact with on a regular basis. For me and all of us, frankly, it was a dream come true to be able to win.

Q: When you were playing with Pat Riley, could you envision him at all turning into the figure he is now?

JW: Well, Pat was an extremely hard worker. Extremely hard. He loved the game. He was a very dedicated player. No one was going to outwork him. And I think by a stroke of good fortune, he got an opportunity to show what he could do. And there's a lot of people out there that are kind of hidden, that seem to have a niche for a particular job, a particular position. He did it as a coach. he's done it as the executive. He's just had an incredible career. And he and I, at that point in time, we were probably the best of friends.

Q: Where does that team rank among the all-time greats?

JW: You know, I don't like to rank players or anything like that, but it was a team that was hard to play against. We had shooting. We had rebounding. Shot blocking. We were the best rebounding team. I think we had two guys (Chamberlain, Happy Hairston) that had well over 1000 rebounds in one year. If they would have kept a steals record that year, oh my God, nobody would ever approach that. No one. But it was one of those unique teams you don't see very often. We had two guys I could just throw the ball, I knew they were going to be there. I wouldn't even have to look. Gail (Goodrich) and also Jim McMillian. I knew exactly where they were gonna be. It was really kind of ironic, because I felt like I was going this way as a player. (West motions downward) And I averaged almost 26 a game and led the league in assists, which I never dreamed possible. And I think Bill Sharman envisioned us playing a certain way and we were able to play that way, obviously with a lot of success.

Q: Are there any particular memories that are stirred the most by seeing everyone?
JW: Frankly, there are so many memories. Unless you've been on a team where players are just so close. We didn't travel after games. You could go in any room, there were probably five or six guys in any one or two rooms every night. It was really fun. I think the more success you have, obviously it brings you closer together. But I never saw petty jealousies on that team. I never saw people kind of get out line in terms of, "I need to play more. The coach needs to play me more." I never saw that. Never saw it. And I think it was one of the things that led to an ultimate team.

VIDEOS

Jim McMillian on the 1972 championship team and his ring:
Gail Goodrich, on the win streak, finally getting a title, and more:

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
26.4 4.1 1.2 35.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 9.8
AssistsJ. Lin 4.9
StealsR. Price 1.3
BlocksE. Davis 1.5