Online Auction: 28 August–27 September 2023 • 10:00 PM EDT • New York

DOMINANCE | Wilt Chamberlain & The First Los Angeles Lakers Championship 28 August–27 September 2023 • 10:00 PM EDT • New York

C hampionship clinching games represent the apex of an athlete’s career. It is the ascent to the highest level of performance. It is the purpose of playing the game, and there is no higher moment.

For the city of Los Angeles, a city that has become synonymous with championships and performance at the highest level, there will only ever be one 1st title. It is a championship that will forever be etched into the history books.

On May 7, 1972 this gold Los Angeles Lakers jersey was worn as Wilt Chamberlain, nursing a broken hand sustained in the prior game of the 1972 NBA Finals, clinched his 2nd and final NBA Championship, the first ever championship for the Los Angeles Lakers, and his sole NBA Finals MVP award. He was dominant, scoring 24 points while grabbing 29 rebounds – a performance fitting for a goliath like Wilt. It was the end of a remarkable season, in which the Los Angeles Lakers had set the record for the most wins in a single season (69), and the most consecutive wins (33), the latter being a record which still stands across all professional US sports. The jersey was featured on the front cover of an October 1972 Sports Illustrated, with the headline “It All Depends on Wilt” with a now iconic photo of Wilt rebounding.

"Playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain was an experience like no other. Wilt possessed a combination of size, strength, and skill, which made him both a great teammate, but also a force to be reckoned with in the paint."
- Jerry West

Wilt was the first of his kind in the NBA, a supreme athlete and a pop-culture superstar. In the record books, 4 of the top 5 points-per-game performances in NBA history belong to Chamberlain, scoring 100 points (a record that still stands), 78 points, and 73 points (two times). He holds the record for the most points-per-game through an NBA season (50.4 ppg), the most points in an NBA season (4,029), most 50-point games in a single season (45), and on, and on. The 13-time All-Star, and 4-time MVP was a force to be reckoned with in the NBA, and his legacy continues to this day.

Photo by George Long for Sports Illustrated, Available for Private Sale at Sotheby’s Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers are synonymous with excellence. Throughout the franchise’s history, and 17 Championships, some of the greatest to ever play the game have donned the team’s bright, gold, uniforms. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, and Jerry West are just some of the more than 25 Hall of Fame athletes that have graced the historic franchise. Wilt Chamberlain served as the foundation to this esteemed Hollywood history, in a city where the combination between sport and celebrity is still celebrated.

As Babe Ruth donned classic New York Yankee pinstripes, Wilt is remembered for wearing the classic and iconic Lakers gold jersey. Today, looking back 50 years, the franchises remain true to classic elements in their uniform designs.

The Lakers were originally known as the Minneapolis Lakers, and moved to Los Angeles in 1960. The early years in Los Angeles were full of heartbreak. In 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, and 1970 (7 times) the Los Angeles Lakers reached the NBA Finals, and each time, they were defeated.

The 1971-1972 Season & 33-Game Win Streak

In the wake of losing the 1971 Western Conference Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks, former Boston Celtic Bill Sharman was asked to replace Joe Mullaney as Head Coach of the Lakers. Sharman made changes, including introducing game-day calisthenics in the locker-room and morning shootarounds. These concepts, at the time, were new, and not as routine as one might imagine. Sharman explained his methodology in an interview. “When guys doze off or mope around their room or the lobby, they get so logy they may not get sharp until after the game is lost," he said. "What I want them to do is develop a game-day routine. I want them to eat at the same time, shoot at the same time and take a nap for less than an hour and a half in the afternoon. If you sleep more than that, it will slow you down. The morning meeting also serves as a reminder, it gets the players thinking about the game. It also familiarizes them with the conditions they will be playing under, what the floor is like and how it feels to shoot into the background at the arena.”

Wilt Chamberlain rebounding, in present jersey. Sports Illustrated, October 1972, included with lot.

Bill made one additional change, appointing Wilt Chamberlain Captain of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The change in strategy paid off. Beginning in early November, the Lakers began to dominate at a level that had never been seen before. On December 12, 1971 the Los Angeles Lakers set the record for the longest win streak in NBA history, with 21 consecutive games. Wilt stated,

"We had been playing good basketball up to the latter part of the stretch… But the pressure began to catch up with us. We all got a little tired. It's been tough…Really, I'm just very glad it's over."
- Wilt Chamberlain

As the Los Angeles Lakers continued to win, media comparisons started to be drawn to the 1916 New York Giants, who with 26 consecutive victories, assumed the longest win-streak in all major US professional sports.

The Lakers surpassed it, easily, winning a stunning 33 games in a row. A record that stands, not just in the NBA, but in all US professional sports.

On January 9, 1972 the Lakers squared off against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks in a game that had a highly-intense playoff atmosphere. As Matthew Barrero of the NBA described, “A packed Milwaukee Arena counted down the final 10 seconds like it was New Year's Eve in Times Square and as the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 120-104 in favor of the Bucks.”

The loss against the Milwaukee Bucks would sit with Wilt and the Los Angeles Lakers, which set the stage for their matchup in the 1972 NBA Playoffs.

The Lakers ended the season with a record of 69 wins, and 13 losses. It was the greatest season in NBA history until the 1995-1996, 72-win Chicago Bulls.

The 1972 NBA Playoffs & Finals

Seven previous NBA Finals defeats imbued the 1972 NBA Playoffs and Finals with a sense of importance for the Lakers. As the Chicago Bulls famously wore on their t-shirts leading up to the 1996 NBA Finals, “Don’t mean a thing without the ring.” The Los Angeles Lakers, coming off the greatest season in NBA history, recognized the real season began in the playoffs.

Los Angeles, the top seed in the west, easily swept the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Semi-Finals which led to a rematch against the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the 33-win-breaking Milwaukee Bucks in the 1972 Western Conference Finals.

Milwaukee obliterated the Lakers in Game 1, by a margin of 21 points. If the Lakers were to lose the next game, their season could have been in peril. Game 2 was an intense matchup, with the Lakers barely emerging victorious in a narrow 135-134 Victory. It was a must win game for Wilt, and he emerged victorious, wearing this very gold Lakers Jersey. The series would go to 6 games, and ultimately culminated in Los Angeles’ victory.

Photo by George Long for Sports Illustrated, Available for Private Sale at Sotheby’s Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Lakers would head back to the NBA Finals, in pursuit of their first NBA Championship, and to close the door on the previous seven NBA Finals defeats.

The series was a repeat of the 1970 NBA Finals during which the Lakers had fallen to the New York Knicks in a heartbreaking 7 game series. The Knicks were a formidable opponent, and former champion.

In Game 1 the Knicks blew out the Lakers, 92-114. With a sense of urgency, Game 2 and Game 3 were taken by the Lakers, in a dominant fashion with the latter game being won 107-96.

While the Lakers won Game 4 116-111, it was revealed in a later New York Times article that Wilt had in fact broken his hand against the Knicks in Game 4 of the 1972 NBA Finals, but decided to play Game 5 regardless. Chamberlain was quoted saying, “I knew it was broken on Saturday, when I saw the x-rays, but no one else really knew it except the doctor and me.” He continued,

"The fracture apparently occurred when I fell Friday night in the fourth game at New York…I felt a little pain in my wrist, not a great pain. But by the next day, when we returned to Los Angeles, it had swollen so much that X‐rays were needed."

Wilt further explained that it was partially due to his rivalry with legendary center Bill Russell that he decided to continue playing. “Three years ago, Bill Russell rapped me for not coming back into the final game of the playoffs when I was hurt. I had a torn ligament in my knee, but Russell said that nothing less than a broken back would've kept him from going back into a big game.”

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1972, included with lot.

If the 1970 NBA Finals was heartbreak, the 1972 NBA Finals was euphoria. LA was dominant, winning the series in 5 games. Wilt, who had only captured one championship until that point, was victorious. Wilt’s performance was so strong in Game 5, he nearly scored a quadruple double with 24 points, 29 rebounds, 8 blocked shots, and 8 assists. Wilt had brought a championship to the city of Los Angeles. At the Forum, the fans stormed the court in celebration.

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