The NBA Time Machine: 1972

Published May 6, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

West Coast Wonder


Shortly after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first title, reigning M.V.P. Lew Alcindor announced his intentions to undergo a name change. Moving forward, he claimed the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – this about translated to “noble one, servant of the Almighty”. Abdul-Jabbar was the first player to publicly embrace Islamic beliefs in the NBA landscape.

No Loss In Los Angeles

After an underwhelming ’71 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers needed to react promptly. Their two superstars were nearing their mid-thirties in age, and the rest of the core wasn’t exactly young either. The front office started by firing Joe Mullaney, who amassed a 94-70 record and Finals appearance with the team.

Los Angeles directed their interest towards former player-turned-coach Bill Sharman, who was active in the ABA. Sharman had seen three Finals appearances in his coaching career – one with the San Francisco Warriors in 1967, and two with the rival league’s Utah Stars in the past two years. The latter of those resulted in a championship, his first as a coach.

The Lakers offered a contract to Sharman that was eventually accepted, much to the dismay of the Stars. The franchise’s owner brought suit against him, and he nearly had to pay over two-hundred-thousand dollars due to contract breaching – however, Sharman escaped the legal warfare unscathed.

His coaching techniques immediately bolstered L.A.’s culture – his “shootaround” sessions, designed to get players warmed up and calm, rendered the team as the most disciplined in the NBA. Under Sharman’s lead, the Lakers won sixty-nine total games, experienced a thirty-three game winning streak, and finished as the best offense league-wide.

The only sour spot of this historic season was the retirement of Elgin Baylor – the multiple-time All-Star felt as if he was not physically capable of helping the team any longer. Such a decision was unfortunately the right one, as a dominant stretch of victories begun immediately after his leave.

Oaktown, H-Town

Much to the surprise of basketball fans, the San Diego Rockets announced a move to Houston after being sold. There was a strong sense of doubt regarding the decision – given the Texas hotspot had no former reputation as a basketball-oriented city – but the decision to settle was still pursued, despite them having to jump between multiple arenas for home games.

They also hired a new coach in Tex Winter, who notoriously clashed with star Elvin Hayes. Winter’s offensive philosophy was undesirable to the center, and there was a noticeable decline in the team’s performance.

In other news, the San Francisco Warriors permanently moved to Oakland and changed their moniker to the Golden State Warriors. A handful of matches were hosted in San Diego, but they did not again play in their origin of San Francisco.

Get Well Soon, Cap…

Ongoing tendonitis issues in his knee limited Willis Reed’s play this year. He was sidelined for two weeks, and shortly attempted a comeback that ended in failure. He only managed to appear in eleven games total, all at the start of the season – this also rendered him unavailable for the playoffs.

Branding Transformation

Starting this year, the NBA adopted a new red-and-blue logo. It incorporated a silhouette of Jerry West. It was largely influenced by the MLB’s logo.

Standout Players

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Fresh off a Finals M.V.P., Abdul-Jabbar looked to continue dominating. Career highs in all three major statistical categories – plus anchoring the top-ranked defense – made this his best season to date.

Jerry West

West was the first option on the greatest team the league had seen, leading all players in assists and influencing sixty-nine wins. A big part of this was availability – his seventy-seven games played was the most in his career since the ’66 season.

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt’s dedication to protecting the rim had never been stronger. He won his tenth career rebounding title while shooting a ridiculous sixty-four-percent from the field. Los Angeles benefited greatly from his presence – their top-two ranked defense would not have been possible without his physical sacrifices.

John Havlicek

The Celtics finished with over fifty wins for the first time since Bill Russell and Sam Jones’ retirement. Why? The answer to that would be John Havlicek. He asserted himself as the best forward in the NBA, finishing top five in both scoring and assists.

Archie Clark

Clark had been nothing more than a one-time All-Star and solid starting player up to this point, but this was a shocking breakout year. Following a trade to Baltimore early into the season, the point guard finished top four in assists and led the Bullets in scoring.

Nate Thurmond

While Thurmond had more dominant statistical seasons in the past, this was by far his greatest effort to date. Under his lead, Golden State finished top four in defense and managed the first fifty-win season in the franchise’s history.

Tiny Archibald

The Royals sophomore took an enormous leap, joining Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West as the only players to finish top three in scoring and assists in the same season. Archibald helped Cincinnati finish in the top half of league offenses despite his dull supporting cast.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*5626Baltimore Bullets*3844
New York Knicks*4834Atlanta Hawks*3646
Philadelphia 76ers3052Cincinnati Royals3052
Buffalo Braves2260Cleveland Cavaliers2359
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
Milwaukee Bucks*6319Los Angeles Lakers*6913
Chicago Bulls*5725Golden State Warriors*5131
Phoenix Suns4933Seattle SuperSonics4735
Detroit Pistons2656Houston Rockets3448
Portland Trail Blazers1864

Fun Facts

  • The Los Angeles Lakers set a new record for the most wins, at sixty-nine – and best winning percentage, at .841 – in NBA history.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers’ streak of thirty-three consecutive games won became the longest in American sports history.
    • In a bittersweet coincidence, the beginning of this stretch coincided with the retirement of Elgin Baylor.
    • The streak ended to the Milwaukee Bucks on January 9th.
  • For the first time in the franchise’s history, the Philadelphia 76ers missed the playoffs.
  • For the first time since 1957, an entire division – in this case, the Central Division – finished with a losing record.
  • This was the Baltimore Bullets’ first losing season since the beginning of the Wes Unseld era.
  • This season marked the first winning campaign for the Seattle SuperSonics franchise.
    • Despite this, they still missed the playoffs due to the new eligibility format.
  • For the first time since 1967, two teams finished with sixty wins.
    • In the last instance, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics shared such an achievement.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

Cleveland Cavaliers
Portland Trail Blazers
Buffalo Braves
Cincinnati Royals
Atlanta Hawks
Seattle SuperSonics
Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors
Baltimore Bullets
Boston Celtics
Austin Carr
Sidney Wicks
Elmore Smith
Ken Durrett
George Trapp
Fred Brown
Cliff Meely
Darnell Hillman+
Stan Love
Clarence Glover


May 7, 1971Jerry LucasSan Francisco WarriorsTradedNew York Knicks(19.2p/15.8r/3.7a)
October 18, 1971Archie ClarkPhiladelphia 76ersTradedBaltimore Bullets(21.3p/4.8r/5.4a)
November 5, 1971Elgin BaylorLos Angeles LakersRetired(11.8p/6.3r/2.0a)
November 10, 1971Earl MonroeBaltimore BulletsTradedNew York Knicks(21.7p/2.7r/3.3a)
March 14, 1972Charlie ScottVirginia Squires (ABA)SignedBoston Celtics(34.6p/5.1r/4.8a)
March 14, 1972Charlie ScottBoston CelticsTradedPhoenix Suns
March 14, 1972Paul SilasPhoenix SunsTradedBoston Celtics(17.5p/11.9r/4.3a)

Other Personnel

May 14, 1971Coach Tex WinterHouston RocketsHiredRecord: n/a
June 3, 1971Coach Joe MullaneyLos Angeles LakersFiredRecord: 48-34
July 12, 1971Coach Bill SharmanLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: n/a
October 13, 1971Coach Dolph SchayesBuffalo BravesFiredRecord: 0-1
October 13, 1971Coach Johnny McCarthyBuffalo BravesHiredRecord: n/a
November 1, 1971Coach Butch Van Breda KolffDetroit PistonsResignedRecord: 6-4
November 1, 1971Coach Terry DischingerDetroit PistonsAppointed (Interim)Record: 0-2
November 3, 1971Coach Earl LloydDetroit PistonsHiredRecord: 20-50
February 2, 1972Coach Rolland ToddPortland Trail BlazersFiredRecord: 12-44
February 3, 1972Coach Stu InmanPortland Trail BlazersAppointed (Interim)Record: 6-20
March 26, 1972Coach Jack RamsayPhiladelphia 76ersResignedRecord: 30-52
March 27, 1972Coach Johnny McCarthyBuffalo BravesFiredRecord: 22-59
April 2, Lenny WilkensSeattle SuperSonicsResignedRecord: 47-35
April 3, 1972Coach Jack McCloskeyPortland Trail BlazersHiredRecord: n/a
April 6, 1972Coach Jack RamsayBuffalo BravesHiredRecord: n/a
April 20, 1972Coach Tom NissalkeSeattle SuperSonicsHiredRecord: n/a
April 24, 1972Coach Richie GuerinAtlanta HawksReassignedRecord: 36-46


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Bailey HowellDetroit Pistons
Baltimore Bullets
Boston Celtics
Philadelphia 76ers
2x Champion
1x All-NBA
6x All-Star
Adrian Smith
(jumped to ABA)
Cincinnati Royals
San Francisco Warriors
1x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP

League Leaders

If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include steals per game, blocks per game, etc.


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

PPGKareem Abdul-Jabbar (34.8)
Tiny Archibald (28.2)
John Havlicek (27.5)
Spencer Haywood (26.2)
Gail Goodrich (25.9)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (19.2)
Wes Unseld (17.6)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (16.6)
Nate Thurmond (16.1)
Dave Cowens (15.2)
APGJerry West (9.7)
Lenny Wilkens (9.6)
Tiny Archibald (9.2)
Archie Clark (8.0)
John Havlicek (7.5)
FG%Wilt Chamberlain (64%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57%)
Walt Bellamy (54%)
Dick Snyder (52%)
Jerry Lucas (51%)
FT%Jack Marin (89%)
Calvin Murphy (89%)
Gail Goodrich (85%)
Chet Walker (84%)
Dick Van Arsdale (84%)



East / Boston Celtics beat Atlanta Hawks, 4-2
For the first time since moving to Atlanta, the Hawks had to play their historic rival Boston Celtics. After an expected Celtics win in Game 1, a duel between star forwards ensued. Boston’s John Havlicek finished with forty-three points, and Atlanta’s Lou Hudson got forty-one of his own. The Hawks managed a solid road win, only to get blown out on their turf a couple nights later – despite the loss, Pete Maravich posted a glamorous 37/9/6 statline.

After winning by a mere two points in Game 4 – thanks to another Maravich effort – the Hawks ventured back up north. They ended up losing to the Celtics in back-to-back matches, with Boston’s Dave Cowens closing out with twenty-six points and twenty rebounds.
East / New York Knicks beat Baltimore Bullets, 4-2
For the fourth year in a row, New York and Baltimore met in the post-season. The Knicks were still without Willis Reed, so the outcome was relatively unpredictable.

The Bullets opened up with a surprising overtime victory, riding off Archie Clark’s thirty-eight points. Regression to the mean did occur, though, as the Knicks won by twenty-two in the next match behind a near-triple-double from Walt Frazier. Clark once again took over in Game 3 as the Bullets won by a single point, taking an unexpected 2-1 lead.

Their efforts ended up being pointless as New York responded with three consecutive wins, largely dependent on Frazier and Jerry Lucas’ abilities. Clark was bad in Games 4 and 5, and his thirty-one point bounce back in the decisive sixth was not enough to stave off elimination.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Chicago Bulls, 4-0
After a fierce series between these two teams that went to seven games, they were slated for another head-to-head. The difference this time around was a healthy Jerry West – after averaging thirty points and ten assists in the two Lakers home games, it was safe to say his impact was immediate. Goodrich was a human flamethrower, and Chicago couldn’t be efficient for their lives – even proven playoff performer Bob Love had a horrible outing.

Wilt Chamberlain was two points and assists short of a triple-double in Game 4, which was the final nail in the coffin for the Bulls. They suffered a sweep at the hands of the historic Lakers squad, still yet to win a playoff series.
West / Milwaukee Bucks beat Golden State Warriors, 4-1
Last time these teams met, Milwaukee completed a comfortable gentleman’s sweep. It was predicted that the fight would be tougher now that the Warriors had leveled up a bit – they were a fifty-win team whose star was arguably having his most impactful season to date.

Shock infested Bucks fans when Golden State managed to win Game 1 in Milwaukee Arena, with four of their players scoring twenty or more points. Nate Thurmond also grabbed twenty boards and dished nine assists.

Milwaukee tightened up with a statement blowout win afterwards, with only Thurmond managing a good performance. This would become the theme of the series – Thurmond’s sheer authority on both ends of the ball was wasted by pathetic play from his supporting cast, and they could not take advantage of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s awful efficiency. Respect to Jim Barnett for his ferocity, though – he played very well in Games 4 and 5.

Ultimately, the Bucks handled business with three straight cushioned victories.

Conference Finals

East / New York Knicks beat Boston Celtics, 4-1
For the first time this decade, the Knicks didn’t seem like clear favorites in the East. They finished with a worse regular season record than the Celtics and lacked one of their stars.

This matchup was proof that veteran experience goes a long way, though. New York won by a disrespectful twenty-two-point margin in Game 1, humiliating fans of the green team. They had six double-digit scorers in this game, while the Celtics’ only members of that club were John Havlicek and Jo Jo White – both of whom were very inefficient.

Despite fifty-two combined points from Havlicek and White the next match, the Knicks won by a narrow one-point margin. Taking both of the first two games was huge for them, and left the Celtics largely demoralized moving forward. Regardless, they fought through adversity – Game 3 at home was theirs. In response, New York provided a beating to keep Boston’s optimism at a low.

In Game 5, three Knicks finished with double digit rebounds as they completed a gentleman’s sweep. This sent them to their second Finals appearance in three years, slated to face one of the last two Western Conference champions.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2
In a rematch of last year’s Conference Finals, the brewing rivalry between Los Angeles and Milwaukee continued. The Lakers looked like the greater team this year, but the Bucks were defending a title – all that could be expected from this series was determination from both clubs.

The classic matchup between Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar favored the latter in the first game, as the back-to-back M.V.P. dropped thirty-three points and secured eighteen rebounds in a Bucks blowout win on the road. After the Lakers’ Happy Hairston secured a series tie with his game-winning bucket, matters were headed to Milwaukee. And considering the Bucks managed a dominant victory – and proceeded to lose by only one point – it wasn’t absurd to say momentum was in their favor.

A quality scoring effort from L.A.’s starting lineup brought them up 2-1 a couple nights later, only to lose by twenty-six points shortly after. Every single Bucks win was in crude fashion, and Los Angeles would have to raise their intensity if they wanted to dethrone their opponent.

Thanks to sixty-nine combined points from Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Jim McMillian in Game 5, the Lakers completed their first blowout win of the series at home. Fatigue seemed to plague Milwaukee as the series progressed – Oscar Robertson only logged nine points in twenty-nine minutes, and Abdul-Jabbar was taking an ill-advised number of shots in every game.

With a chance to tie the series at home, the Bucks collapsed in the fourth quarter and accepted defeat at the hands of their foe. They could not sustain quality play, being littered with injuries – Robertson and Wali Jones both had pulled muscles, and Jon McGlocklin was dealing with a nagging back injury. Couple that with a rare dominant offensive performance from Chamberlain – as well as necessary support from the Lakers’ other starters – and yet another Finals trip for the Californian team was in the books.


Los Angeles Lakers beat New York Knicks, 4-1
In the sixties, the narrative was Lakers vs. Celtics. Now, Lakers vs. Knicks seemed to be the uprising cross-country clash – this was their second Finals meeting in the last three years. Los Angeles looked to avenge their disappointing loss in 1970, where they went out in embarrassing fashion to a rallying New York squad.

New York surprisingly managed to win the first game against the odds, similar to their series with Boston. Walt Frazier’s triple-double harmonized with Bill Bradley’s effective twenty-nine points, while just about everybody on the Lakers was terrible.

The sixty-nine-win team shut out the noise shortly after, thanks to great performances from Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich. The former began to take advantage of New York’s shallow rim protection as the series continued, and his increased aggression made up for how poorly Jerry West was playing.

Game 4 was an overtime battle – while West got to the line at every opportunity, Jerry Lucas and Walt Frazier could not be contained. The Knicks still lost regardless, now down 3-1 on their way back to the west coast.

The Lakers were now closer than ever to their first championship in nearly twenty years, and seized the opportunity without a thought. Four of the five starters scored over twenty points, and Chamberlain got twenty-nine rebounds.

They convincingly pulled away in the second half, completing the gentleman’s sweep – this was the Lakers’ long-awaited first title since moving to Los Angeles, and first since the great dynasties of Minneapolis. The Jerry West era had finally produced a ring.
The Los Angeles Lakers win the 1972 NBA championship!
Wilt Chamberlain was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVPFinals MVPCoach of the Year
Sidney WicksKareem Abdul-JabbarWilt ChamberlainBill Sharman


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Walt Frazier
Jerry West
John Havlicek
Spencer Haywood
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Tiny Archibald
Archie Clark
Billy Cunningham
Bob Love
Wilt Chamberlain


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Walt Frazier
Jerry West
Jerry Sloan
John Havlicek
Dave DeBusschere
Wilt Chamberlain
Norm Van Lier
Don Chaney
Paul Silas
Bob Love
Nate Thurmond


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Butch Beard
Archie Clark
Dave Cowens
Billy Cunningham
Dave DeBusschere
Walt Frazier
John Havlicek
Lou Hudson
John Johnson
Bob Kauffman

Jack Marin
Wes Unseld
Tom Van Arsdale
Jo Jo White
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain
Gail Goodrich
Connie Hawkins
Elvin Hayes
Spencer Haywood
Bob Lanier
Bob Love
Oscar Robertson

Cazzie Russell
Paul Silas
Jimmy Walker
Jerry West*
Sidney Wicks
West beats East, 112-110


All-Rookie Team
Austin Carr
Phil Chenier
Clifford Ray
Elmore Smith
Sidney Wicks

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Celtics111957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
Lakers61949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972
Warriors21947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967