Lakers honor 1971-72 champions

Updated: April 7, 2012, 5:34 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Forty years after the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won an NBA-record 33 games in a row during the regular season en route to an eventual championship against the New York Knicks, their mark still stands.

"I've always believed that records are made to be broken, but I'm not sure that one's going to be broken," said Gail Goodrich, who led the '71-72 team in scoring with a 25.9 points-per-game average. "It's just very hard. It's almost half a season. Especially today, I think, where players are jumping from one club to the other with free agency, I think it's going to be very, very difficult."

Goodrich pointed out that the closest any team has come to the win streak record was the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, who won 22 in a row.

"Well, that's still 11 away," Goodrich said.

Lakers coach Mike Brown, who was just 2 years old during that historic Lakers season, agreed the record was safe.

"I don't think that will ever be touched," Brown said. "That's ridiculous."

Goodrich, along with about a dozen other members of the '71-72 Lakers team, was recognized at halftime of the Lakers' 112-107 loss against the Houston Rockets on Friday, in honor of the 40th anniversary of their championship season, the first Lakers championship in the city of L.A.

The '71-72 Lakers finished with a then-record 69-13 mark in the regular season, which has since been eclipsed by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who finished 72-10. The team featured four future Hall of Fame players in Goodrich, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. Pat Riley, a role player on the team, went on to become a Hall of Famer as a coach and is currently president of the Miami Heat. Bill Sharman, who guided the Lakers to their record campaign in his first year on the sidelines for the franchise, also went on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a coach.

"Obviously, winning 33 games in a row stands out more than anything," said West, who won his only championship in nine career Finals appearances by beating the Knicks 4-1 that season. "It's just something in your wildest imagination; you could not imagine that happening."

The Knicks won the first game of the 1972 Finals, but the Lakers swept the next four to take the title.

"After we lost that first game against the Knicks, it was a wake-up call," Goodrich said. "I think everybody on the team felt that if we didn't win the championship that year, even with the 33-game streak, that would have been all for naught, because at the end of the day, the goal was to win the championship."

Added West: "It was just a magical year. That's all it was. Everything worked."

West and Riley received the loudest ovations when the team was announced at center court at halftime. Joining them on the court were Goodrich, Baylor, Sharman, Jim Cleamons (who later became an assistant coach for the Lakers on Phil Jackson's staff), LeRoy Ellis, Keith Erickson, Jim McMillian, Flynn Robinson, Bill Bertka (an assistant coach on the '71-72 team and current Lakers scout) and Lynn Shackleford (a broadcaster for the team). Chamberlain, who died in 1999, was represented by his sister, Barbara Lewis, and legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn, who died in 2002, was represented by his wife, Marge Hearn.

The team is widely considered to be one of the top five NBA teams ever assembled.

"I don't like to rank players or anything like that, but it was a team that was hard to play against," said West, who led the league with a 9.7 assists-per-game average that season. "We had shooting. We had rebounding. Shot blocking. We were the best rebounding team. I think we had two guys [Chamberlain and Happy Hairston] that had well over 1,000 rebounds in one year. If they would have kept a steals record that year, oh my God, nobody would ever approach that. No one. ... It was one of those unique teams you don't see very often."

Members of the team were presented with commemorative rings to honor the 40th anniversary of their championship, solving a problem for at least one player in attendance.

"My championship ring, I still have it, and every time someone wants to see it, I got to find it," said McMillian, who made the trip from his home in North Carolina for the ceremony. "It's like, 'OK, where did I leave it at?'"

Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O' Lakers blog contributed to this report.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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