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Still much work ahead for undefeated Warriors
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Congratulations to the Warriors for going 16-0 out of the gate. Let me express my overriding sentiment about the achievement in two words:
Big deal.
Yes, this is the portion of our program where us old guys who have watched basketball for a long while step onto the lawn and start screaming that these young whippersnappers have done absolutely nothing that’s so darn-fangled awesome yet.
Because they haven’t!
When the Warriors win 33 in a row, the way the Los Angeles Lakers of 1971-72 did, then we will talk about darn-fangled awesome. I subscribe heartily to the view offered after Tuesday’s 16th straight victory by Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“If we don’t win the NBA championship, who cares about the 16 games?” Green said.
Even beyond that, who cares about the 16 games in the context of the regular season when the real record streak that every NBA fan knows is that Lakers’ 33-game win streak -- as opposed to the season-opening number that only a few people knew existed until a week or so ago.
And if the Warriors are going after that 33-game streak . . . well, they are not even halfway there yet.
Could this team get to 33 or 34?
Nope. No chance. So says the old guy screaming on the lawn. The Warriors may not even get to December undefeated, what with a danger-trip to Phoenix coming up Friday. But most likely, the winning streak will end during a seven-game road trip that starts next week.
The 1971-72 Lakers and their 33 straight victories fell during my college years, somewhere between my wide-eyed kid stage and professional admiration stage. So I had an adult appreciation of that feat while also retaining a bit of the youthful awe.
The mainstays of that Los Angeles team were 35-year-old Wilt Chamberlain and two ace shooters at the guard position, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. They began their streak on Nov. 5 in the season’s 10th game, The Lakers didn’t lose again until after the holidays, on Jan. 9 in Milwaukee to a Bucks team with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Because the mass media was less omnipresent in those days and because the NBA was not the marketing machine it has become, the nation was not riveted by the Lakers’ streak the way it would be today if the Warriors make a serious run at breaking it. But I do remember, week after week, checking the newspaper box scores and seeing the occasional highlight as I asked myself if the Lakers would ever lose. The closest they came to doing so during the streak was in Game 20, an overtime victory at home over the Suns.
West, who was a Wednesday morning guest on KNBR, recalled that overtime loss and remembered it as maybe the only time during the streak where he thought his team had played poorly. He is a current Warriors’ executive, of course, so he was able to walk the fine line between applauding what the Warriors have accomplished so far this season while also warning them not to get too carried away.
“How long this can continue is anyone’s guess,” West said optimistically at one point, but later addressed the prospect of reeling off 33 straight this way: “To even try to assume that’s going to happen is wrong.”
The most important focus for the Warriors should be on pacing themselves through the regular season while learning good habits and staying healthy. The biggest legends are built in the playoffs. The regular season is the regular season and is to be more enjoyed than worshipped, as illustrated by one of my favorite sportswriting stories. It was gleaned from my own stint at the Los Angeles Times back in the late 1970’s where I worked alongside a loveable but crusty scribe named Mal Florence.
Back in 1971-72, the Lakers had not yet won a NBA title in Los Angeles and were not even considered a sexy enough beat for the Times to send a writer on the road with them full time. But when the streak reached 30 games, the editors decided to dispatch Florence for the job of chronicling the unfolding history. Florence was there when the Lakers racked up their 32st straight victory in Cleveland and their 33rd straight in Atlanta, then went to Milwaukee and wrote about the streak-ending defeat.
The following morning, the Lakers were checking out of the hotel and waiting for the team bus that would take them to the airport and their next game in Detroit. However, the Times called Florence home. He was carrying his bag across the lobby to a taxi and passed the players and coaches.
“Where are you going, Mal?” asked one of them.
“Sorry, guys, I don’t cover losers,” Florence replied, not breaking stride.
That 1971-72 Lakers team did go on to win the NBA title, with style and panache. So did the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the other most notable NBA regular season victory record by finishing the season 72-10. With the way it’s going for the Warriors, they could take a run at that one. In fact, they may have a more realistic shot at 72-10 than they do at 33 straight because there’s more of a margin for error or a bad shooting night.
I applaud the Warriors for the way they are approaching every day. I also applaud them for staying off my lawn. But if they do get close to 33, you’ll definitely see me out there screaming and yelling.
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