On December 22, 1971, the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) defeat the Baltimore Bullets 127-120 in Baltimore for their 27th straight victory, breaking the previous record for the longest winning streak in professional sports. They had previously been tied with baseball’s New York Giants, who won 26 games during the 1916 season.
Coached by Bill Sharman and led by future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the 1971-72 Lakers began their historic run of victories on November 5, 1971 (also over the Bullets). They set a new NBA record with their 21st win on December 11, beating the Atlanta Hawks 104-95 and surpassing the 20-game winning streak of the Milwaukee Bucks the previous year. As Chamberlain told the press on December 22, “We did our celebrating when we won No. 21. That was the big one.”
The Lakers extended their winning streak to a total of 33 consecutive games before losing to the Bucks by a score of 104-120 on January 7, 1972. After ending the regular season with a then-record of 69 wins, the Lakers swept the Chicago Bulls to set up a Western division title match against the Bucks and their star center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Before the series began, LIFE magazine hailed the face-off between Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar–11 years Chamberlain’s junior–as the greatest in sports history. Chamberlain came out on top, outplaying Abdul-Jabbar and leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. Los Angeles won the series convincingly, 4-1, giving MVP Chamberlain his first NBA crown with the Lakers.