The day Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks ended the longest streak in American professional sports history
Abdul-Jabbar showed plenty of fight in snapping Lakers’ 33-game winning streak
Bill Sharman was prepared for the day the Los Angeles Lakers’ run ended. The Lakers coach wrote a speech on a dog-eared piece of paper that remained in his coat pocket with each victory.
The Milwaukee Bucks finally put a stop to Los Angeles’ 33-game winning streak on Jan. 9, 1972, and forced Sharman to pull out that dog-eared note. It was the longest winning streak among major American professional sports teams at the time.
Many teams tried to end the record-setting streak that began on Nov. 5, 1971, but only the Bucks could upend Los Angeles. The Bucks won their 20th game in 21 contests with the 120-104 victory in front of 10,746 fans in Milwaukee.
“We’ll beat them,” Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Costello said before the game to The New York Times. “We’re the champs, and all they have is the streak.”
The marquee matchup was Wilt Chamberlain versus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who knew a thing or two about historic streaks being ended. In high school, Abdul-Jabbar was a member of Power Memorial’s historic 71-game winning streak that DeMatha ended less than a decade earlier.
Ultimately, Abdul-Jabbar showed he was in a league of his own, dropping 39 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and knocking out Harold “Happy” Hairston in the second quarter. Chamberlain scored 15 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked six shots.
The Lakers did themselves no favors, turning the ball over 24 times, shooting 39.3 percent from the field and playing very little defense.
“Oh, I had a couple of corny things written, but I didn’t read them today,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “If I had to single out one thing, I’d say that the Bucks’ aggressive defense was the difference. We had to work for every shot we took, and we couldn’t get our running game going because they picked up our guards in the backcourt.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Milwaukee, but this is one of the weakest games we’ve played in a long time.”
Said Lakers forward Jim McMillian: “We lost it. Milwaukee didn’t win it.”
Hairston got wrapped up in Abdul-Jabbar’s legs under the basket. When Hairston got up, Abdul-Jabbar’s right hand flew into his jaw, which left Hairston motionless on the court for several seconds. Abdul-Jabbar received a personal foul.
“I simply lost my temper,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
Said Hairston: “Sure, I fouled him. Fouls are a part of basketball, but slugging isn’t.”