The Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak in the 1971-72 season, which is considered one of the most unbreakable records in NBA history when they play the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. The Lakers trounced the Hawks 134-90 on Jan. 7, 1972, to extend their winning streak to 33 games before losing in Milwaukee two nights later.
Only five 20-game victory streaks have occurred in the NBA’s 75-year history, demonstrating how unusual such a run is. Consider the latter two to get a sense of what it takes to put anything even close together.
The 2015-16 Warriors began 24-0 and finished 73-9, making them the greatest regular-season club in NBA history. The Miami Heat won 27 games in a row in 2012-13, and all they had was LeBron James at the top of his physical abilities and three other Hall of Famers (Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade) playing in unison.
Despite this, the 1971-72 Lakers, headed by Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich (Elgin Baylor having retired nine games into the season, literally right before the streak started), had a very safe record.
Here are some of the individual records that have survived the test of time and are expected to endure the test of time even when the NBA celebrates its 100th season in 25 years.
• Wilt Chamberlain’s whole 1961-62 season is basically written in statistical concrete, and it will never be repeated. He had the greatest ever scoring average of 50.4 points per game, and no one came close. Apart from Chamberlain, Michael Jordan is the only other player to average more than 37 points per game. No one has ever come close to Chamberlain’s 39.5 shots per game average. No one has ever averaged more than 30 points. Elgin Baylor once averaged 29.7 points per game, whereas Jordan and Allen Iverson both averaged 27 points per game.
His 48.5 minutes per game average is another record that will go on forever. That season, he was never benched and only missed eight minutes of one game after being ejected in the fourth quarter. Because he played seven extra games, he averaged more than 48 minutes each game. He was nearly never called for a foul, averaging a career-low 1.5 per game.
• Rasheed Wallace’s 41 technical fouls. In Portland, Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals is remembered for its contentious whistles. Wallace’s relationship with referees deteriorated further the following season, when he received a league-high 41 technicals on his route to 18 ejections. The NBA implemented new regulations in 2006 that mandated season-long penalties after a player reaches the age of 16, thereby putting Wallace’s record on ice for good. With 317 technical fouls in 16 seasons, he ranks third all-time in technical fouls behind Karl Malone (332) and Charles Barkley (329).
• Walt Bellamy’s 88 games. Bellamy made his NBA debut with the New York Knicks in 1968-69, appearing in 35 games. Then he was moved to the Detroit Pistons, where he played 53 games to reach 88 for the season due to an uneven schedule. Players have appeared in more than 82 games 41 times, the most recent of which being Josh Smith’s 83 games with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets in 2014-15. Tom Henderson came in second to Bellamy with 87 games between the Bullets and Hawks in 1976-77.
• Moses Malone’s 6,731 offensive rebounds are the most in NBA history. It’s 7,382 if you add his ABA numbers. When simply looking at NBA stats, that’s 2,500 more than second-place Artis Gilmore and 2,100 more than Robert Parish. With 21 and 19 offensive rebounds, he owns the two highest offensive rebounding performances in history. Dwight Howard is the current active leader in offensive rebounds, although he is still 2,600 behind Malone.
• John Stockton’s 15,806 assists throughout his career. From 1987 through 1996, Stockton led the league in assists nine times in a row. He is approximately 4,000 points ahead of Jason Kidd, who is second all-time, and 5,000 points ahead of Chris Paul, who is third all-time. Paul, who is 36 years old, is averaging a league-high 9.9 assists per game this season. To pass Stockton, he’d have to keep it up until he was 42 years old. The former Utah Jazz great has four of the top ten assist seasons in NBA history, as well as seven of the top ten. He has 31 games with 20 or more assists. Stockton also holds the record for most career thefts (3,265), over 600 more than Kidd, who is in second place.
• A.C. Green’s 1,192-game winning streak. From 1986 through 2001, the streak spanned 16 seasons with four different clubs. From 1972 through 1982, Green passed Randy Smith, who played 906 games in a row. Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz has the most recent record, appearing in 384 straight games from 2015 to 2021. From 2011 through 2017, Tristan Thompson was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers for 447 straight games.
• LeBron James’ record of 1,067 straight regular-season games with double-digit scoring (and counting). James began his streak in 2007 and has had a few close calls, including last season when he scored a 3-pointer to reach ten points only after seriously spraining his ankle in a game and exiting the game. He departed a game earlier this season with an abdominal ailment after scoring 10 points. In 2018, James surpassed Jordan’s old record of 866 straight games. The only other run that came close was James Harden’s, which lasted 450 games until he had to exit a game due to a hamstring injury last season. During that time, James has only scored less than 10 points in two postseason games, the most recent of which was in 2014 against the Indiana Pacers, when he scored seven points.
• Hakeem Olajuwon’s 3,830 blocks. Mark Eaton’s season-long record of 5.56 blocks per game is also improbable, but Olajuwon’s total is massive. He’s almost 500 points ahead of second-placed Dikembe Mutombo, who is closer to ninth place on the list than first. To replicate Olajuwon’s 3.1 blocks per game average, a player would have to play every game for 15 seasons. Only three current players have averaged three blocks in a season at least once (Myles Turner, Serge Ibaka and Hassan Whiteside).
• Scott Skiles’ 30 assists. This record has already endured the test of time, since it dates back to December 30, 1990, and has been on the books for more than 30 years. He was locked on 29 assists for six minutes in the fourth quarter, matching Kevin Porter’s mark from 1978, until earning the record dime with a minute to play. Skiles scored 22 points that night, averaging 8.4 assists per game that season and subsequently had a 20-assist game (and the Orlando Magic scored a team-record 155 points in a win over Denver). The most recent time someone came close was in 2017, when New Orleans’ Rajon Rondo had a 25-assist game. Only Rondo and Russell Westbrook have had more than 22 assists in a game in the last ten seasons.
• Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance. The 60th anniversary of this accomplishment, which occurred on March 2, 1962, is approaching, and there’s a good possibility the 100th anniversary will pass without it being touched. Chamberlain had a 78-point game earlier in the season (in a triple-overtime defeat to the Lakers in which Elgin Baylor scored 63 points) and two 70-point performances the following season. The key was his position on the line, where he placed 28th out of 32. He had a lifetime free throw percentage of 51 percent, and it was definitely his best-percentage free throw night of that remarkable season. Of course, Kobe Bryant’s 81 points in 2006 were the second-most ever, despite taking 17 less shots (46 to Wilt’s 63). Devin Booker is the only person after Bryant to score 70 points in a game, although he is still 30 points short of Chamberlain’s record.
• Wilt Chamberlain’s 55 rebounds. This occurred on Nov. 24, 1960, in a game Chamberlain subsequently described as one of the most physically demanding of his career. Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics were the opponents, and they won by three points. Russell’s previous season’s record of 51 rebounds was broken. Russell and Chamberlain have the 12 most-rebounding games in NBA history. Only two other players in history (Nate Thurmond and Jerry Lucas) have had more than 40. Only a few 30-rebound games have occurred in the previous two decades, the most recent being Enes Freedom’s 30 in a game last season. To give you an idea of how improbable this record is to be broken, there have only been around 50 times this season when a team has had at least 56 rebounds in a regulation game. The Jazz scored 68 in a victory over the Hornets in December (Rudy Gobert had 21), tying the season record established by the Grizzlies in a win over the Kings in November (no Memphis player had more than 12).