When the Lakers’ remarkable 33-game winning streak finally ended on that chilly Sunday in Milwaukee in 1972, their shooters going cold and Bucks sensation Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running wild with 39 points and 20 rebounds, the notion someone would ever challenge the landmark achievement seemed farfetched.
"We just finished a streak that I don’t believe any other team is going to break," Lakers forward Jim McMillian said after the game.
Mr. McMillian, meet LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
And Lakers fans, now might be the time to start worrying one of the most enduring records in sports history is in serious jeopardy.
More than 40 years after the Lakers and Jerry West and Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain strung together 33 straight wins over more than two months - annihilating opponents by an average of 17 points per game while obliterating the NBA record of 20 straight wins by the Bucks a season before -- here come the streaking Heat led by James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a tight-knit group of role players.
After racing back from 13 points down with eight minutes to play Monday in Boston to beat the Celtics, the Heat stretched their winning streak to 23 games, the second-best run in league history.
In the process, they leave many to wonder if they can catch the 1972 Lakers -- while rendering a few former Lakers a bit edgy.
"For so many years, I never truly felt anyone would ever break it,"
Others are digging in.
"They are not going to do it," said Keith Erickson, a reserve forward on the 1971-72 Lakers and a proud guardian of his team’s historical record.
He hopes, anyway.
"There is no doubt they are a fantastic team," Erickson added wistfully.
Meanwhile Bill Sharman, the coach of those Lakers, watches with a mixture of awe and apprehension, the basketball fan in him marveling at James and the Heat while his heart of purple and gold fears a monumental achievement is on the brink of being toppled.
"Well, I have to admit that I am a little nervous about Miami’s streak so far," Sharman wrote via email Monday. "I think that anything is possible."
Say it isn’t so, Bill.
In the 41 years since the Lakers captured the imagination of sports fans across the nation, no professional team has come close to challenging the record.