Jerry West enjoying Heat's streak
For 41 years, the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak in the 1971-72 season has stood as one of the most unbreakable records in sports.
Right up there with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962.
But if the Miami Heat can win their next 10 games, the Lakers' record will fall.
They've got great 3-point shooting and they're never out of a game because of that. Then they've got the best player in the game that does all the little things. I'm sure any coach would love to coach him because he does so much. I never thought this streak would live forever. No, not in today's games. ... I just think it's a streak that could very easily be broken this year. I really believe that.” -- Former Laker and current Golden State executive Jerry West, on LeBron James and the Heat's winning streak
"You ask me, 'Does it bother me?' Absolutely not. I think it's great for the league. I'm excited for my friend, Pat Riley, to be able to replicate this now as an executive. But as a player, that's pretty special."
West says he's rooting for the Heat and LeBron James.
"He's an amazing player," West said Thursday. "And, frankly, I'm thrilled for him because of all the negative things said about him as a player. He's improved as a player, but more importantly as a person."
West said he admires James' selfless attitude on the court and the way the Heat play as a team.
"I think they have a team," West said. "So much of the NBA has been marketing its stars. Players that have a flamboyant way of playing, and we have some incredible athletes playing this game. So much of the marketing in the NBA has been, frankly, about players. I think it's time we talked about the teams.
"When I look at the league this year, I think we have a lot of great teams. You look how they play together, Denver, Memphis, San Antonio, and obviously, the Heat. I don't want to leave anyone out, but I'm just mentioning those four teams."
Miami has become so good, West said, he can't see an upcoming game outside of a road matchup in San Antonio on March 31, that poses a real threat to the winning streak, which stands at 24.
"It may not end," he said. "That's why I think it's so remarkable. I look at the schedule and I see one team on there that's a terrific team and obviously that's the Spurs. That would be a game that I would be concerned about, playing in San Antonio and they're going to have Tony Parker back by then."
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But if the Heat get past the Spurs, watch out.
"The one thing they've got going for them is defensively they can really get after you because of the ability of Wade and particularly LeBron," West said. "They're ball hawks, and when you turn the ball over, it's going to be a layup.
"There's gonna be more and more focus on the games, and I think it makes the players focus more on trying to achieve the record that everyone said couldn't be broken. I think they've got a great chance to do it myself."
The Lakers' streak in 1971-72 lasted 65 days. During it they averaged 123.3 points a game and beat opponents by an average of 16 points. Twenty-four of the wins were by double digits, and only one was decided by four points or fewer.
"If you look at the scores of those games, they weren't close. And we didn't play a lot frankly in the last quarters of a lot of those games," West said.
The travel was more difficult than it is now, however. NBA teams still flew commercially, taking the first flight the morning following a game, rather than a charter flight to the next city after the game. Teams also routinely played three nights in a row.
Some have said these facts make the Lakers' streak, even if the Heat eventually break it, more impressive. West agrees to a certain extent, but doesn't think that type of comparison is worthwhile.
"Frankly, I didn't mind three games in a row. I really didn't," he said. "To me, you were much more focused. All you had to do was try to get some rest. I don't think any of us thought it was anything more than another day at work. Only it wasn't work, it was fun. It's just a different era. It certainly makes it easier for players.
"I laugh like crazy when I hear writers talk, 'Oh these guys are tired.' You can't be tired if you're in your 20s and early 30s. You don't get tired. I think it's an excuse when people say, 'Oh, this is a back-to-back game.' I just think of all the things that is a real plus for athletes today, traveling right after a game, when you're not ready to go to sleep anyway, getting to a hotel at 2 a.m., that's probably the time you're going to sleep anyway. I think it's a tremendous advantage."
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Still, there are others who say the level of competition and talent in the league make the Heat's streak more impressive.
"I read a comment that somebody said the league is so much better than it was then. It could be the case. But I see some very poor teams out there," West said. "I see a lot of players in the league right now that aren't very good. Expansion has diluted the talent.
"So it's harder to get a lot of good players on one team today. So this is where you have to give Pat and the Heat a lot of credit. They've assembled three players that most teams don't have today. Two are All-Pro players. You don't have that very often."
Thus far, the Heat's streak has been much dicier than the Lakers' streak was. They have a one-point win against Orlando, a double-overtime win against Sacramento, a 27-point comeback win against Cleveland and a 17-point comeback against Boston.
Only 14 of Miami's 24 wins have been decided by double digits. The average margin of victory has been 10.9 points.
How would the Heat fare against West's Lakers?
"Our strength was in our backcourt in terms of scoring [with West and Gail Goodrich]," West said. "But we had the best rebounding in the league, and we had the best shot-blocking [with Wilt Chamberlain]."
Who on the Heat could have matched up with Chamberlain?
"No one," West said.
In the days ahead, if Miami continues its pursuit, there will be more comparisons between the two super teams. West says he's going to sit back and enjoy watching it play out.
"I think this is what makes sports so intriguing," he said. "Is a number out there -- DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Will anyone ever do that? Football, the Dolphins, undefeated. A lot of people don't think those things are possible. Well, they are possible, particularly in basketball. I think you get a real unique team, and Miami has a unique team.
"They've got great 3-point shooting and they're never out of a game because of that. Then they've got the best player in the game that does all the little things. I'm sure any coach would love to coach him because he does so much. I never thought this streak would live forever. No, not in today's games. ... I just think it's a streak that could very easily be broken this year. I really believe that."