Last Thursday and Friday evenings were special for me.
The 1971-‘72 NBA champion Lakers were honored, first at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel and then at halftime of the Lakers’ game at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets.
I was the only writer who covered every game that season, home and away when I worked for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. No, the LA Times didn’t send a writer full-time.
A documentary about the team, its record 33-game winning streak and Coach Bill Sharman is in the works. The NBA won’t allow the documentary to be marketed until 2013 but a 30-minute film has been made to promote the documentary and I’m in a couple of scenes.
What was it like to see the guys again? Some I see from time to time, others I hadn’t seen in 40 years. Well, it was like seeing army buddies again, people with whom you’ve shared a unique time in your life.
Wilt Chamberlain, Happy Hairston and John Q. Trapp have died. Gail Goodrich is no longer the baby-faced kid who became a star at UCLA. He’s older and looks more dignified. Leroy Ellis was in a wheelchair and Jim McMillan walked with the aid of a cane.
On Thursday, before the formal program began, I had nice chats individually with Keith Erickson, Pat Riley, Jerry West, Flynn Robinson, Ellis, McMillan, Goodrich, Sharman, scout Bill Bertka and broadcaster Lynn Shackleford.
As the formal program began, 1,000 invited guests filed into the Marriott’s ballroom.
They were entertained by Jeffrey Osborne and then heard each player speak.
“I remember once when Flynn Robinson went in for a layup and he was hit in the head,” recalled Riley. “He wore a toupee and it was knocked crooked. We tried to put it on straight and the pins holding it were all over the place.”
Joyce Sharman, Bill’s wife, had worked diligently to put the evening together.
“Your invitation said Bill Sharman invites you,” said Joyce. “Bill would never put on a program to call attention to himself. It was me.”
She did a remarkable job.
It was pointed out the 33-game winning streak has not only stood for 40 years but it’s the longest in pro sports history.
“We had lost in the finals to the Boston Celtics eight times and we were getting old,” said West. “We weren’t expected to do much.”
Especially when Elgin Baylor retired after nine games. His knees would no longer respond and his remarkable career came to an end.
But the team won the Lakers’ first NBA championship in Los Angeles. It compiled a 69-13 record, went two months during the streak without losing and defeated the New York Knicks in the finals.
I was pleased that Baylor participated in the weekend festivities and was greeted warmly by the fans. I was disappointed that Chick Hearn didn’t live long enough to participate.
On Friday night West, Baylor and Riley drew the biggest ovations at Staples Center.
The ’72 Lakers were true champions and someone in the press box said Coach Mike Brown should have had the current Lakers watch the halftime ceremony so they might gain an appreciation of how champions conduct themselves.
That didn’t happen and the Lakers proceeded to lose their game.