Turning up the Heat on one of US sport’s greatest winning streaks

When the members of the LA Lakers team that won the 1971-72 NBA title got together last year to reminisce about the good old days, one question dominated the event: would there ever be a season like theirs?

It’s a question becoming more and more pertinent now as America slowly moves into spring: could there ever be a team to threaten the greatest winning streak in American sport? When the Lakers won 33 games in a row with astonishing ease that winter, every season since has made it look as though they did it for keeps.

I’m not sure how it compares to any of football’s ‘Invincibles’ but the increasingly brutal schedule of professional basketball in the US means that it must be up there in the world of sport.

Remarkably, that team won games on three consecutive nights on four separate occasions during the streak which began against the Baltimore Bullets on November 5, 1971 before being halted by the Milwaukee Bucks in early January.

And although the regular-season total of 69 was bettered by the Chicago Bulls, they went on to win the championship anyway, their first of 11 titles after the move to Los Angeles.

“I don’t think it will ever happen. It’s almost illogical today, in team sports,” said one of the Lakers players at that reunion last year.

That former player-turned- coach, Pat Riley, knows a thing or two about how difficult it is to hit any sort of streak in this game: he brought the great Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s Showtime Lakers through the 1980s, winning four titles before almost getting the best out of the New York Knicks in the early 1990s.

He also knows intimately what it’s like to be the team that is all of a sudden closer than any other.

On Monday night, the club he used to coach and is now president of, the Miami Heat, went to the supremely hostile home court of the Boston Celtics and escaped with a tense victory that gave them sole ownership of second place, 23 victories in a row.

The Celtics are not quite the Celtics of old, the team that stopped the Houston Rockets in their tracks at 22 wins five years ago.

Five years to the day on Monday, in fact.

But the animosity for the visiting team and current biggest story in American sport was palpable in a town which still resents ego. Alas, LeBron James proved yet again he is on another level with 37 points, the winning bucket and more besides.

The Heat are on a 10-game countdown now and only one team — on paper, anyway — can realistically stop their incredible march into the history books: the San Antonio Spurs (March 31), a team coached by Gregg Popovich who would love nothing more than to deflate the single greatest publicity generator the NBA is enjoying at the moment.

Ironically, Popovich is the same killjoy who defied NBA chiefs in November and decided to rest his first-choice players at Miami even though it was the chosen game for national television coverage that evening, thereby damaging viewing figures and compromising billion-dollar deals made by executives in suits.

This evening, LeBron and company travel to Cleveland, Ohio to play his old team, the Cavaliers.

There’s no need to go over all that again but it’s safe to say fans there would love nothing more than to see the “King” come crashing down to earth.

Maybe the insurmountable hurdle will be the one they least expect.

However, the fact that they have managed to align themselves with the legendary Lakers of 1972 is enough to copper-fasten their own place in history.

As I sometimes do, I need to drop all pretense of decorum and give my hurling club in Blackrock a mention.

They have been mounting a fine campaign as one of the final four GAA clubs in the running for Etihad’s ‘Raise The Bar’ competition.

Yesterday, the man who broke my heart as I stood in the rain on the Canal End during the 1993 All-Ireland final, Joe Brolly, agreed on Twitter that he would give his vote to the Rockies if they gave him Ray Cummins’ autograph in return.

Which goes to show that it’s not all take in the Fishing Village.

I’m sure the other clubs are worthy finalists but the Boys from Blackrock have never been ones to shy away when success is within reach. So if you have 30 seconds, get on etihadgaa.ie and give your vote to a club doing sterling work in avibrant community.

And I’ll work on getting a signed picture of Terry Hassett or the Cashmans or any of the other Cummins.

Maybe Wayne Sherlock wouldn’t mind or the Brownes or a future Cork star in the making who would benefit today from this opportunity.

Contact: john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: @JohnWRiordan

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