L.A.'s greatest sports moments No. 11: Lakers win first title in L.A.
We asked you to send in your picks for the greatest sports moments in L.A. history, and 1,181 ballots later we are unveiling the top 20 vote-getters. Each weekday we will unveil a new moment until we reach No. 1.
No. 11: Lakers win first title in L.A. (25 first-place votes, 2,877 points)
So many times they had been so close to the ultimate victory, only to suffer the most bitter of defeats.
In their first 11 seasons in Los Angeles, the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals seven times, only to lose every time. The Boston Celtics beat them six times, the New York Knicks once. Three times the Lakers lost in the seventh game.
The 1971-72 season, finally, turned out to be the Lakers' time as they won their first championship in L.A.
With the backcourt of Gail Goodrich (25.9 points a game) and Jerry West (25.8) taking care of most of the offense, and Wilt Chamberlain doing his part on defense (averaging a league-leading 19.2 rebounds a game), the Lakers established themselves as the team to beat early in the season.
After a 6-3 start, they won an NBA-record 33 games in a row. They finished the season at 69-13, another league mark.
Once the playoffs started, the Lakers continued to dominate, sweeping the Chicago Bulls in four games in the first round.
The second round, the Western Conference finals, proved to be much more difficult. The Milwaukee Bucks, the defending champions, beat the Lakers, 93-72, in the opening game at the Forum. The Lakers won two straight thrillers (135-134 and 108-105) before the Bucks responded with a 114-88 victory in Game 4. The Lakers enjoyed their own rout in Game 5, a 115-90 win at the Forum. Fittingly, the Lakers closed out the series with a 104-100 win on the same court in Milwaukee where their record winning streak had ended.
"We’ve beaten the best team we had to beat," Lakers Coach Bill Sharman said. "But I'm scared to death of a letdown now and the last team to beat could be tough."
The Lakers faced the Knicks in the Finals, the same team that had beaten them in seven games in 1970. But without injured center Willis Reed, New York could put up only minimal resistance.
After a shocking 114-92 loss in the first game at the Forum, the Lakers played like champions, winning the next four. They won Game 4 in overtime in New York, then closed out the series with a 114-100 victory at the Forum on May 7. Chamberlain, playing with injured wrists, had 24 points and 29 rebounds in the clincher. He was voted the series’ most valuable player.
West, the only Laker to be a part of all seven of the losses in the Finals, scored 23.
"It's an unbelievable feeling ... something I've always wanted to experience," West said. "Now I know what it feels like to be a champion."
-- Hans Tesselaar
Photo: Walt Frazier of the Knicks is stopped by Wilt Chamberlain as Jerry West drives around them for a basket during a 1972 NBA Finals game. Credit: Associated Press