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Creating a legacy: Comparing Miami Heat, ’72 Lakers win streaks

Mar 26, 2013, 9:05 PM EDT

Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West Getty Images

It’s about legacy.

When you talk about the 1972 Lakers 33-game win streak you talk about a team that had been the best in the West for the better part of a decade but had no rings to show for it, and when they put it together that year they dominated the league for a season like few others have.

That kind of legacy — of dominating a season, of dominating an era — is what the 2013 Heat are playing for. It’s one thing their current 27-game win streak can help bring them. Setting a new record would be mentioned as part of this team’s legacy the way we talk about the 72-win Jordan-led Bulls squad. The Lakers absolutely owned that season; that’s the legacy the Heat want.

But when you look at who has been better in their respective streaks you see neither team had it easy. There is no easy way to win 27 in a row. Yet the key to how we will remember the run 15 years from now is how it ends for Miami — how many wins and is there a ring to go with it?

Looking at the numbers one difference stands out — the Lakers won the games in their streak by an average of 16 points a night. They dominated. The Heat are at 11.9, which certainly is impressive in its own right. Only three times in their streak did a team come within six points of the Lakers, the Heat have had that or gone to overtime 9 times. That 16-point differential is insane, it speaks to a level of dominance over their competition that even the Heat on this streak haven’t shown.

The two teams have plenty of things in common, starting with the obvious of three big stars on each — Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich are all Hall of Famers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be without question; Chris Bosh has an 88 percent chance of getting elected according to Basketball-Reference’s probability estimates (if he gets a few more rings with this Heat side it is pretty much a lock). Both teams also had good fitting role players around their stars — remember Heat president Pat Riley was one of those players for the Lakers, along with Jim McMillan and Happy Hairston (the latter of which averaged better than 20 points a game during the streak). Miami has Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and others that fit their style of play and what they want to do.

The other big similarity: Defense. We know the Heat’s run is built on it — in the last 10-games they are allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA in that time. The Heat are aggressive, forcing turnovers and converting those to easy buckets and monster dunks the other way.

That Lakers team was sixth in the NBA in points per game (in that era certain stats were not kept so it’s impossible to estimate possessions and the stats that come from them). But former Lakers coach Jim Mullaney said that Bill Sharman, who had taken over to coach that team, had “Chamberlain playing like he is Bill Russell.” (Quote from the book “Lakers Glory.”) When Chamberlain wanted to own the defensive end or glass, he could do it.

That Lakers team did have to deal with things the current Heat do not — the Lakers run started during a string of eight games in 10 days (nod to John Schumann at You read that right. It started on a back-to-back-to-back, they had a day off, then had another back-to-back on the road (Chicago and Philadelphia), then one day off to travel back to Los Angeles before another back-to-back-to-back. And five of those eight teams won 47 games or more that season. During their streak, the Lakers had a total of four back-to-back-to-backs.

That said, the Lakers cumulative winning percentage of teams they beat during the streak (.477, measured by records at the end of the season) is pretty much right in line with where the Heat are now.

It’s hard to compare across decades — the 17-team NBA of 1972 was a very different place than today’s NBA. Fewer teams could mean more condensed and deeper teams (although there were 11 teams in the ABA at the time) but there were also no foreign players to speak of at the time to deepen the player pool.

I think someday we’ll look back on the runs as similar in that they showed the team’s dominance over the league that year — if the Heat win a title this spring.

And that is one other difference — the Lakers streak started in November and ended at the hands of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 9. Teams can have letdowns when streaks end — those Lakers lost four of six starting with the Bucks — and getting it over early was a good thing said Jim McMillan, the Lakers starting forward on that team, speaking with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

“We had a chance to regroup emotionally, mentally, physically,” McMillian said. “We said, ‘OK, we had a good run on the streak and let’s get ready for the championship run.’ [The Heat] are pushing themselves to break this record and not lose. They are not going to have a chance to regroup because next thing you know the playoffs are here.”

The Heat are riding this wave into the playoffs. We’ll see how — or if — the streak impacts their title run.

But someday my guess is we’ll look back at both streaks the same way — a sign of a team dominating the league for a season like few others have.

  1. dalucks - Mar 26, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    Beating the Pistons, Bobcats, Magic along with the rest of the bottomfeeders in the Eastern conference is not exactly murderous row. I am just saying. How many playoff teams have they beat during this streak?

    • its50 - Mar 26, 2013 at 9:46 PM

      the cHeat play in the lEastern conference. give me a break with the rose-less bulls, joke of a seniors group (loltics), and a bunch of bottom dwellers. only team that is worth mentioning has beaten the cHeat (pacers)

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Mar 26, 2013 at 9:46 PM

      They’ve beaten a good number of playoff teams. I’ll give them that. They caught a couple of them without key players, and needed the refs to get back into yet another blowout vs. NYK, but you can’t really discredit what they’re doing.

      It’s the media (over)coverage of it that sickens me.

    • miamatt - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:29 PM

      Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Lakers, Pacers, Knicks, Bulls, Hawks, Celtics, Bucks…. in other words, 11 out of 15 other current playoff teams at least once, including all the top seeds outside of the Spurs. At lease glance at a schedule before you comment about the schedule.

      We tried to get the ’85 Celtics and the ’95 Bulls on the schedule, but our phone calls were not returned.

      • fcramas - Mar 27, 2013 at 10:39 AM

        Hey people this Miami Heat streak is like a well planned conspiracy of Mr. “Joke” Stern. Just look at the team the beat…lol, beside if they’ll surpass the ’71-72 Lakers win streak, I don’t think they can duplicate what the Lakers did at that time; refer paragraph 9 as quoted:

        “That Lakers team did have to deal with things the current Heat do not — the Lakers run started during a string of eight games in 10 days (nod to John Schumann at You read that right. It started on a back-to-back-to-back, they had a day off, then had another back-to-back on the road (Chicago and Philadelphia), then one day off to travel back to Los Angeles before another back-to-back-to-back. And five of those eight teams won 47 games or more that season. During their streak, the Lakers had a total of four back-to-back-to-backs.”

        That streak was done in 4 sets of back-to-back-to-backs”

        Miami Heat fans, can you dig that!!!!

  2. Mr. Wright 212 - Mar 26, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    If they beat the Spurs, Bulls and Knicks, then I will give them their due. But you can’t even turn on a non-sports channel and avoid this oversaturated nonsense 24/7. ENOUGH ALREADY.

  3. hojo20 - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    Of course the Heat’s streak is more impressive, because friggin’ ESPN says so. God I hope someone ends it soon.

    • macctwt - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:27 PM

      or maybe it was more impressive because the half of the talented players don’t play in another league like they did in 71-72

      • rferrai57 - Mar 27, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Half played in the other league? you would be lucky to find 15 talented players in the ABA in 1971-72. 75% of the ABA would have been either on the bench or not even in the NBA,

  4. 1972wasalongtimeago - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    The 24/7 spotlight you complain of is one of the things that makes the steak more impressive. I’m guessing the 72 Lakers didn’t face that much media scrutiny during their time. I’m guessing only the most insane sports fans even knew about the streak at the time, and tbat most of them only read about it in newspapers the next day. Can’t say that for sure, just guessing. It’s an advantage the 72 Dolphins had over today’s teams also. Have I mentioned that 1972 was a long time ago?

    Also, if the Lakers were playing back to back to backs, so were the teams they were playing. That type of thing is really just a wash.

    • miamatt - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:39 PM

      Indeed, there were some years in the ’70s that not even the NBA Finals were on live TV- not sure that was the case in 1972.

      Not to discredit those Lakers in any way, shape, or form. They are deservedly remembered as legends and one of the all time great teams in NBA history.

      But safe to say they weren’t responding to twitter nation post-game.

  5. dirtyjerseysports - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    HGH is a wonderful drug.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Mar 26, 2013 at 11:15 PM

      As were amphetemines

      • badintent - Mar 27, 2013 at 1:38 AM

        nice one
        our fly boys take’em on those long refuel trips for Air Force missions. God bless them.

  6. chichi78 - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    I can never fully understand the Bosh Hall of fame talk. He is a fine player, but he made one (1) all NBA team in his decade career. Sure he was an all star a bunch of times, but that is just a popularity contest. All NBA is a better guage of dominance in an era. The guy is a 3rd wheel on a team with two all time greats.

    • mannyfresh209 - Mar 27, 2013 at 3:16 AM

      There’s VERY limited space to make an All-NBA team. There’s far too much talent, in the NBA, to simply shut down someone’s hopes of making the HOF if you’re basing it solely off that criteria.

      There’s Dirk, Duncan, Garnett, LeBron, Bosh, Aldridge, Carmelo, Durant, Chandler, Brook Lopez, Horford, Griffin, Dwight, Pau/Marc Gasol, Love, Bynum (when healthy), among other great players, that people have to choose from, when selecting All-NBA forwards/centers.

      To hold that against Bosh is pretty harsh.

      • davidly - Mar 27, 2013 at 6:00 AM

        There’s VERY limited space to make the Basketball Hall of Fame.

  7. mp4philly - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    @ Its50
    I’m no Heat fan but I’m confused. How exactly do they cheat?
    Btw- all the cutesy names for teams are pretty corny.

    • its50 - Mar 27, 2013 at 1:43 AM

      why you mad bro?

      do you not watch basketball? do you just lick at lebrons nuts and let them dangle before your eyes, clouding your judgement? do you not see the lack of officiating towards them?

      that phaggot wade is out there injuring players and he gets nothing

      • heat256 - Mar 27, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        In other words, you have no proof, but rather a child-like way of b!tching and moaning when things don’t go how you want them to. I bet you’ll go real far in life, champ.

      • its50 - Mar 27, 2013 at 8:12 PM

        no proof?

        rondo in the playoffs
        rip hamilton
        kobe in the allstar game

        wade’s a dirty player

  8. badintent - Mar 27, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    Wilt dominates Bosh, West and Wade are a wash, Chambers and Goodrich are a wash, LBJ dominates whoever defends hm but don’t dare come inside on Wilt.But Lakers have no answer for Birdman !!! fly high Birdman.But no facial tats please. Enough is enough.

    • davidly - Mar 27, 2013 at 6:02 AM

      Wilt would dominate Bosh and Birdman, and anyone else who had the guts to step anywhere near the paint or get in his way.

      True that about LBJ, tho’.

    • cullenand99 - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:43 PM

      Did you just say Mario Chalmers and Gail Goodrich are a wash? Seriously? Goodrich was the leading scorer for that 71-72 Lakers team, not to mention he’s a HOFer. I am 100% sure that Chalmers isn’t anywhere near Goodrich.

  9. davidly - Mar 27, 2013 at 6:16 AM

    Outstanding analysis, Kurt. Thanks for the work you put into it.

    And now for my two-cents (cuz we all know how important that is;-)

    Interestingly, and to his credit, Kurt Helin breaks it down really well here without succumbing to the need to declare a dubious truth. He is spot on about the Heat’s needing to win it all, without which the streak gets washed away in the MIami sand–never to be spoken of again unless in the context of how they didn’t get the rings, and not until someone else goes on a similar streak of their own. To wit: the vast majority of fans wouldn’t know about the Rockets streak were it not for this one now.

    What I find most telling about the debate, however, is the odd need for people to declare winners in things that cannot be contested. Obviously, many of us do it because the speculation is entertaining, but some of us have bizarre emotional attachments to the un-knowable outcome. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes struggles personally with & against this internal dynamic.

  10. loungefly74 - Mar 27, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    The Heat is Godzilla and the rest of the league are the little guys running around. no denying the kudos they deserve and earned.

    (i’ll be the first to say it, as i was a hater (still hate the heat though)) but all that hype of them coming together a couple years back is quickly becoming justified…Lebron & co. are looking smarter every day.

    we are witnessing history, folks. we should be standing up giving golf claps.

  11. trimaster1 - Mar 27, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    People are nit-picking the wins, but if that’s the case, why hasn’t this been done before? Why aren’t other teams winning this much? Each team plays 82 games each season. What’s stopping other teams from putting in this type of win streak?

    I’m sorry people are tired of hearing about it, but this IS news because this is only the SECOND LONGEST STREAK in NBA HISTORY.

    Teams have this game circled on their blackboard and are coming out BLAZING because THEY want to end the streak.

    When the Heat are playing on the road, the fans are in a FRENZY trying to rattle the Heat and get their team fired up.

    Yet they keep winning. I’m sorry people don’t think this is impressive, but it IS.

    I wonder if this was their team on the streak how happy and excited they’d be? Whether you’re a Heat fan or not, just enjoy this piece of history because we probably won’t see this again for ANOTHER 40 years…

  12. paulhargis53 - Mar 27, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    badintent, I hope you’re kidding about the West/Wade and Goodrich/Chalmers comparisons. If you’re not, you’re more delusional than lakerluver is.

    West is one of the best all around players EVER. Wade doesn’t come close to him. Chalmers and Goodrich a wash?! Are you 15?
    P.S. Wade and Lebrons drives to the hoop and finishing doesn’t happen with Wilt in the middle. You obviously don’t know what kind of physical specimen he is.

    He’d have Bosh and Birdman fouled out by halftime too.
    Still impressed by the Heat streak, but that laker team is head and shoulders above them.

    • badintent - Mar 28, 2013 at 2:06 AM

      no jackass, I’m 57 and old enough to have watched little Gail throw jumpers from outside so he wouldn’t get his hairspray mussed. He and Chambers both are jump shot shoooters, at least Chambers plays decent Defense, something Gail never did. You must be half blind if you thing that West has half the physical skills that Wade has. I watched West for over 10 years, never saw him block a shot, let along a center or power forward like Wade does on a semi-reuglar basis.West was a better outside shooter than Wade, but Wilt can’t block every shot that Wade takes in the paint. Walt Frazier was a great player but no Wade and he ate West alive in the Fnials , scoring 37 points in the last and winning game.Wilt was a monster in the paint, but Bosh would rain outside jumpers on him. You only have to go back to the Lakers/Knicks series to watch Willis Reed do that as Wilt refuse to leave the paint to cover him. As a Knick fan when Reed played, I saw him do that game after game.Lakers had no lock down defender like Battier. And Jerry Lucas did the same thing.Now go take your Porzac and Prep H.

  13. craighsite - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    Reading these post are always amusing. It’s hard to separate emotion and logic but most of all facts and perspective. The Heat are doing something really special from a athletics and performance standpoint. This record is 41 years old. If it was easy it would have been broken years ago by multiple teams. Whether you are a heat fan or not you should be able to appreciate the accomplishment. As a fan, former player and a coach I appreciate how they are playing. They are making history. All the nick picking is really some fans myopic view because they hate the Heat. You play your schedule Period! Even if a team is not as talented they are still pros so any team can win on any night. I still remember the Bulls 72 win team lost to a lowly Toronto Raptors team with Damon Stoudemire. Enjoy it will you can. Lastly, I blame ESPN for all of the over coverage. I’m glad that they finally have competition from NBC & Fox. ESPN has controlled the narrative and the conversation far too long. Their opinions are often mistaken for facts. In any case, I wish this team the best and I appreciate everything that they are doing!

  14. southpaw77 - Mar 27, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    What the media wont tell you is that Lakers team played 3 nights in a row, 4 separate times during that streak and kept winning. Cant imagine they had great 1st class flights back then and got massages and electric stim on their sore muscles.

    I’m also gonna bet that Lakers team didn’t beat so many injury ravaged teams like Miami has. Rose, Granger, Rondo, Love, Kyrie, Amare and countless big names are out while Miami marches on pretty much injury free.

    And the league is watered down big time. Heck from the mid 80’s-mid 90s every city you went in to you had to deal with a hall of famer or two. Mullin in Golden State, Miller in Indiana, Ewing in NY, Robinson in San Antonio, Olajuwon in Houston, Dominque in Atlanta, LJ and Mourning in Charlotte, Stockton & Malone in Utah, Barkley & KJ in Phoenix, Price & Daugherty in Cleveland, Drexler in Portland, Payton & Kemp in Seattle and so on… So I’d argue the Bulls 72-10 vs all that competition was tougher, thats bonafide hall of famers at every stop. You cant say all these cities have a hall of famer on their team now, no way!

    • Kurt Helin - Mar 29, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      Before you say “what the media wont tell you” maybe you should bother to read the post.

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