The 1971--72 Lakers won an NBA title and set records with a 33-game winning streak and 69 regular-season victories. But there was more to the team.There was Flynn Robinson, who wore a toupee during games, and Happy Hairston, who went to nightclubs in his Lakers jumpsuit. Best of all, there was Wilt Chamberlain, whose house featured a bedspread made of wolf noses and a traffic signal that flashed LOVE/DON'T LOVE.
If basketball historian Charley Rosen had devoted more to these characters in The Pivotal Season: How the 1971--72 Los Angeles Lakers Changed the NBA (Thomas Dunne Books, 286 pages, $24.95), his book might be an absolute joy. But too much is invested in recaps of regular-season and playoff games. Time parsing box scores would have been better spent hearing from the likes of Pat Riley, a bench warmer whose recollections are noticeably missing.
Then there's the dubious premise that these Lakers, with their wide-open style, forever changed the NBA by creating a more entertaining brand of basketball. The notion shortchanges the fast-breaking Celtics of the '60s, not to mention the freewheeling ABA. Fortunately Rosen doesn't push the point. When you've got Wilt, how much more do you need? --Bill Syken