Heat come up short of 1971-72 Lakers’ record

For four decades, members of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers had few anxious moments.
The closest anybody had gotten to their NBA-record 33-game winning streak was the 2007-08 Houston Rockets reaching 22. But there wasn’t that much concern since the Rockets had lost star center Yao Ming midway through the streak and were running on fumes.
But those on the 1971-72 Lakers were worried this month about the Miami Heat. Several talked about the Heat having a decent chance to top a record that many had thought was unbreakable.
There’s no reason for concern anymore. The Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA as well as all of American major pro sports history, came crashing down with a 101-97 loss Wednesday night at Chicago.

“The Miami Heat had a great run, and I congratulate them on winning 27 in a row,’’ said Bill Sharman, coach of the 1971-72 Lakers. “As for me and my ’72 team, I don’t mind that the streak will live on for a while longer.’’

That feeling was shared by guard Gail Goodrich, the leading scorer on that team.
“Yes, I’m happy, of course, we still have the record, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we didn’t,’’ Goodrich said. “I thought (the Heat) really a chance to do it, but it just shows what a significant record it is and how difficult it is to do it. We’ve had it for 41 years, and I guess we’ll have it for at least another year. That’s good.’’
Goodrich watched on television as the Bulls defeated the Heat. Keith Erickson, a forward on the 1971-72 Lakers, was in a business meeting but heard from his wife, Adrienne, when the final buzzer sounded.
“I got a text from my wife and it said, ‘Ha. Chicago beat Miami,’ ’’ Erickson said. “That made me smile.’’
During the streak, the Heat seven times came back from double-digit deficits to win games. They fell behind by 13 in the first half Wednesday, although they did fight back to lead by two late in the third quarter.
“That team has been able to flip a switch a number of times,’’ Goodrich said. “But you’ve got to come ready to play all the time, and it can catch up to you. And it did. But Miami is a tremendous team.’’
Goodrich watched a number of Heat games during the streak. So did Erickson.
“It was fun to see how close they came,’’ Erickson said. “I never thought that anybody could break that record. But then when Miami got that close, I thought they had a legitimate chance to do it. They were playing so well.
“But it’s fun to know (the record remains with the Lakers). Now, I don’t think that anybody will ever break it. I will enjoy continuing to be part of it.’’
Erickson didn’t believe anybody on the 1971-72 Lakers would be drinking champagne like the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins often do after the last NFL unbeaten team falls each season. A key reason for that is Pat Riley.
Riley was a reserve guard on the 1971-72 Lakers and later coached the team to four titles in the 1980s. He’s now Heat president.
Riley has constructed a Heat outfit that is favored to win a second straight championship. Sharman said earlier this month that “Riley has put together an amazing team’’ and Miami’s streak was making “me a little nervous.” 
“That is a monumental feat,’’ Sharman said Wednesday about the Heat reaching 27. “And they should be proud along with Pat Riley.’’
Riley, who was not made available by the Heat for an interview during their winning streak, often has talked about how proud he is of the 1971-72 Lakers and the streak. Those Lakers went a then NBA-record 69-13 and cruised to the championship.
“Pat had to have had some conflicted emotions,’’ Erickson said. “I know he certainly would have loved his team to break that mark, but at the same time, I know how much that record has meant to him.’’
Riley had told FOX Sports Florida last year, “That streak, I don’t think it ever will be broken.’’
Now, perhaps he can go back to saying that publicly.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson.