Courtside stories: Pippen, Grant never believed Bulls could win 70 games

chamberlain-westBy Robert Mint

The LA Lakers obviously didn’t start the 1971-72 season the way they wanted to – as the team’s captain, 37-year old Elgin Baylor was forced to retire just 8 games into the season, because of injured knees.

Following this, Wilt Chamberlain became the team’s captain. What happened afterwards, went straight into the record books.

Led by Chamberlain and Jerry West, the Lakers stunned the NBA, winning 69 regular season games, and – 33 games in a row.

” We amassed numbers that rocked. They were unbelievable. When you get to 17-18-19 wins, people say – wow, can they ever lose?” Chamberlain said at the time.

Jerry West years later recalled “the streak”.

“All of a sudden this team started winning basketball games,” West recalled. “And we went along, and along and along. One month passed by, two months passed  by, and almost got funny because we thought no one can beat us.”

On Nov. 5, 1971 they beat the Baltimore Bullets 110-106, and they did not lose a game for more than two months. On Dec. 12 they beat Atlanta 104-95 for their 21st in a row, breaking the NBA record of 20 set by Milwaukee a year earlier. On Dec. 22 they beat the Bullets 127-120 to make it 27 in a row, surpassing the longest winning steak in major league sports, 26 games by baseball’s 1916 New York Giants.

They extended their streak to 33 consecutive wins by beating the Hawks 134-90 on Jan. 7, 1972, before finally losing to the Bucks 120-104 two nights later.

pippen-grant-bullsFast forward to the 1990’s, and the beginning of the Chicago Bulls era. In 1990-91 the Bulls won 61 regular season games and captured their first NBA title. The next season they won 67 games and won another championship.

And yet, at the time, even the Bulls’ leading players didn’t believe they could surpass the Lakers’ record of winning 69 games.

“I don’t think it is possible. I want to say we could do it, but it’s just too tough,” Scottie Pippen said at the time.

“Right now, the league is quicker, faster. Realistically, I don’t think we have a chance,” Horace Grant said back then.

Well, they were both wrong. Grant wasn’t on the team during the 1995-1996 season, but Pippen was. The Bulls won a record 72 games, and lost only 10. That was the year of the 4th championship for the team.


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