Led by three-time MVP LeBron James, the defending NBA champion Miami Heat started the regular season with a relatively tame record of 29-14 before winning their next 27 games. AP
RIGHT off the bat, there is a need to distinguish between an unbeaten streak and a winning streak. In an unbeaten streak, an athlete or a team goes through an entire career or season undefeated. On the other hand, in a winning streak an athlete or team catches fire only for a certain period before going back to the real world.
An unbeaten streak is a rarity, happening once in a lifetime. It’s like heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano going 49-0 in his entire career or the Miami Dolphins winning the Super Bowl by going undefeated the entire 1972 season. No other heavyweight boxing champ has duplicated Marciano’s feat and the Dolphins to this day remain the only team in the National Football League to have a perfect season.
A winning streak, however, can happen in a blink of an eye the moment the athlete or team gets in a groove or in the so-called ‘zone.’ A winning streak is on an interim basis only and there is no guarantee of a championship ending. Just the same, wondering how long the streak can go already makes for a thrill-a-minute ride.
The Miami Heat, the defending champion in the on-going regular season of the National Basketball Association (NBA), is one team that went on a winning streak. The team started the regular season with a relatively tame record of 29-14 before going unbeaten in 27 games, pulling within seven victories of breaking the record 33-game winning streak set by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1970s.
After opening the 1971-72 regular season with a win-loss record of 6-3 in their first nine games, the Lakers left opposing teams biting their dust by winning their next 33 games. The remarkable run started on November 5, 1971 with a 110-106 win over the Baltimore Bullets and did not end until January 9, 1972, when the Milwaukee Bucks, led by center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, beat the Lakers 120-104. The Lakers won their last 14 games of November, all 16 games during December and their first three games of January to shatter the previous NBA record of 20 straight wins set a season earlier by the Bucks.
The Lakers, of course, went all the way despite having their streak snapped. The team finished the regular season with a 69-13 win-loss mark, then an NBA best. Led by guard Jerry West and mastodon Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round, upended the Bucks in six games in the Western Conference finals and defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the NBA Finals to claim their first crown since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960.
The Heat’s attempt to break the Lakers’ 40-year-old mark received a lot of media mileage down to Thursday’s 101-97 loss to the undermanned Chicago Bulls. LeBron James and his teammates went through what other athletes and teams have been through at one point in their careers – having that feeling of invincibility, no matter how fleeting.
The Olympic men’s basketball team of the United States had that same feeling from 1936 to 1972, when it dominated the Olympics and handily won the gold medal. The streak started on August 7, 1936 when the US defeated Spain and lasted until September 9, 1972, when the Soviet Union shocked the team with a 51-50 victory. Insisting that they were robbed of a win, the members of the US team to this day refuse to accept their Olympic silver medals.
Former welterweight and middleweight boxing king Sugar Ray Robinson went 85-0 as an amateur boxer and won his first 40 fights after turning pro in 1940. On February 5, 1943, Robinson’s winning run ended when he was decisioned by Jake LaMotta. Robinson, however, started another winning streak that left everybody in awe. The streak started on February 19, 1943 with a win over Jackie Wilson and lasted until 10 July 1951 when Robinson finally lost to Randy Turpin. Before the match with Turpin, Robinson’s record was 128-1.
The Heat’s 27-game streak is an amazing feat in itself, ranking as the second-best in NBA history. Now let’s see if they can end the season fittingly enough with a championship.