One could argue that the Lakers are the NBA’s marquee franchise given their rich history, tradition, glamour, superstars as well as their multiple championships.
The Minneapolis Lakers may have been the league’s first ever dynasty, but even after moving to Los Angeles and seeing the roster change through the years, the franchise eventually bounced back and became a dynasty once again by the 1980s and also during the 2000s.
Mind you, there was once upon a time where many felt as though the Lakers were doomed to falter with the chips on the line despite their star studded roster given their multiple defeats in the NBA Finals.
Eventually, the idea that the franchise could be a perennial disappointment on the grandest stage would become almost ludicrous as the team would reach new heights all the while providing a brand of drama and excitement along the way that only perhaps the 2012 NBA champion Miami Heat could replicate.
However, before the Los Angeles Lakers could become a league powerhouse for years to come, they would need to secure their first title in the city of angels.
Clocking in at the second spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams…
The 1971-72 Lakers
During the 1971 playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers were soundly defeated by a Milwaukee Bucks (66-16) team that many argued was one of the best ever in the history of professional basketball. The Bucks were led by perhaps the best guard of his generation as well as the best weapon in the sport in Lewis Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
A Lakers team loaded with star power bowed out to the eventual champs and thus made changes in the off-season.
They hired former Celtics great Bill Sharman to coach the team with the hope that he could use his coaching experience — won the ABA title as a head coach in 1971 with the Utah Stars — coupled with his knowledge of the game from a players perspective — he helped the Boston Celtics win four championships — to get the Lakers to play up to their potential and finally claim the championship trophy.
Sharman made his mark very early with the team with the requests he made from his players. Jerry West would play point guard while Gail Goodrich would play without the ball. The adjustment made for a high scoring backcourt, but also a guard tandem that shared the wealth with their teammates. In addition, Wilt Chamberlain would now be asked to cede the scoring duties to his teammates and instead concentrate on defending, rebounding and getting the fast break going with his outlet passes.
The Big Dipper had the lowest scoring season of his career at that point, averaging 14.8 points per game. Sharman’s decision to make Chamberlain more of a defensive presence stemmed from his Celtics background, as he essentially asked Wilt to become the Western Conference’s version of Bill Russell, and he obliged by reducing his point totals and leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.
The head coach’s last order of business was to get Elgin Baylor to come off the bench and to promote Jim McMillian to the starting lineup to better complement the starters. Baylor instead chose to retire, since he felt he could no longer perform like he once had due to injury.
And just like, after pulling all the strings and setting things into motion, the Los Angeles Lakers went on a streak. A huge one.
On November 5th, 1971, the Lakers defeated the Baltimore Bullets 110-104. Bill Sharman’s team wouldn’t lose again until January 7th, 1972.
For those counting at home, the 1971-72 Lakers were undefeated for two whole months. The Lake Show managed to win an NBA record 33 games in a row, a record that still stands to this day. As impressive as the string of victories were, their dominance as a unit was reflected in how they defeated teams.
During the 33-game stretch, the Lakers defeated their opponents by 15.7 points, and only won six games by less than double digits. Think about that for moment, the 1971-72 Lakers were so good for two months that save for six games, every single outcome was a blowout or close to it.
Although the win streak ended at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in January, the Lakers still managed a couple of other modest win streaks stretching out to four games (once), five games (once) and eight games (twice).
The regular season was one for the history books as the Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with an unprecedented 69-13 record, breaking the record of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers that went 68-13 with Wilt Chamberlain manning the pivot for them.
In addition to their impressive regular season record, the Lakers led the league in scoring and sported an average scoring margin of plus-12.3 points.
It set the stage for the postseason where the Forum tenants faced off against the Chicago Bulls (57-25) who were for all intents and purposes outmatched. One would expect a 57-win team to be one of the best in the league, and yet they barely truly bothered the Lakers, falling at their hands in four games by an average of 10 points.
The Chicago sweep set up a rematch with the Milwaukee Bucks.
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing some of the best basketball of his young career, the Bucks blew out the Lakers off their home court in Game 1 by 21 points. Jerry West and company bounced back and won the next two games and to take a 2-1 series lead; only to see Milwaukee even things up in Game 4 with a 26-point win.
The Lakers managed to go back to the Forum and won a pivotal Game 5 in a rout as Oscar Robertson struggled to play to his usual standards due to injury. With a chance to close out the series in Game 6, the Lakers did just that, winning by the narrowest of margins to secure a trip to the NBA Finals.
Surprisingly, the Bucks lost the series in six games despite outscoring the Lakers by 14 points thanks to a pair of blowout victories while the Lakers won Games 2, 3 and 6 by a total of eight points.
In order to secure their first title since moving to Los Angeles, the Lakers would need to take out the New York Knicks (48-34).
The NBA Finals initially had the same feel as the Western Conference Finals as the Knickerbockers blew out the Lakers in Game 1 in Los Angeles.
With Jerry West stuck in a woeful shooting slump, Sharman decided to go to the imposing Chamberlain who was still an ultra effective scorer.
With Wilt asserting himself on the block and patrolling the paint defensively, the Lakers won the next four games and secured the first and only title of Jerry West’s illustrious career. Chamberlain won the Finals MVP award thanks to impressive averages of 19.2 points per game and 23.2 rebounds per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in five games in the title round.
The ’72 Lakers were one of the most dominant teams the NBA has ever seen as evidenced by their record setting regular season that was punctuated with a championship at season’s end.
If there is one tiny blemish for this team, and really it’s nitpicking; but we have to mention their relatively low plus-3.2 average scoring margin for the playoffs. This is obviously a direct result of the blowout losses at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks (two such defeats) and New York Knicks (Game 1 of the NBA Finals); which happen to be their only defeats of the 1972 postseason run.
Sharman led his unit to a 12-3 playoff record as well as six double-digit playoff wins and overall record of 81-16 when we combine the regular season with the playoffs. The ’72 Lakers are both statistically and also according to the eye test one of the best teams in the history of basketball and come in second in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown.
For a fairly long stretch, this team was the standard by which every Lakers championship team was measured up against and rightfully so…
Until another team dethroned them…