Winning Ways: A Look Back on the 1972 Season

Nine games into the season, Los Angeles collectively held their breath as 13-year veteran Elgin Baylor announced his retirement after he realized he had as much mileage out of his aging knees that he was ever going to get. The 11-time All Star and savior of a struggling Minneapolis franchise was a fan favorite and a player who is often regarded as one of the league’s best.

American basketball player (and later NBA executive) Jerry West, University of West Virginia #44, runs and dribbles with a basketball, 1950s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


But something else happened that night at the Great Western Forum. The Lakers began a win streak that still stands today as the best in all North American Major League sports. The Lakers won all 14 of their games in November, and then proceeded to win all 16 in December on their way to an unprecedented 33 game win streak. It eclipsed the Bucks’ mark of 20 set the season before, and it was the Bucks who ironically ended the Lakers’ streak in a 120-104 win at home.

In the midst of their season domination, the Lakers players each exhibited a will in driving their team to the top. Jerry West led the league with an outstanding 9.7 assists a game while averaging 25.8 points per game. In the absence of Elgin Baylor, Chamberlain bested the rest of the NBA in grabbing over 19 rebounds and had help from veteran Happy Hairston and sophomore forward Jim McMillian. Hairston averaged 15 rebounds per game over the latter half of the season and McMillian chipped in with an integral 18.8 points per game.

Chamberlain would end up leading the league in Field Goal percentage as well at close to 65%. But one of the biggest standouts was the second half of the Lakers backcourt, Gail Goodrich who averaged a career best 25.9 points per game and helped West bolster a backcourt that was unrivaled in the game at the time.

Next: All-Star Game and Playoff Challenges…

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