Wilt Chamberlain's record blown by Washington Kastles
Wilt Chamberlain's Lakers won 33 games straight, a record now surpassed by the Washington Kastles. But surely Wilt Chamberlain would join the current Lakers in praising the new record-holders.
Wilt Chamberlain, step aside. Martina Hingis and the rest of the Washington Kastles wasted no time putting on the red T-shirts, the ones that proclaim that they're now at the top of the list among the "longest winning streaks in major U.S. pro sports history."
And they even got congrats from the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Kastles of World Team Tennis won their 34th consecutive match Tuesday night, routing the Boston Lobsters 25-12. Their streak is one better than the storied run of the 1971-72 Lakers, a team that included Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.
"We made history. Tonight is magic," said coach Murphy Jensen, sporting a white hat with the number "34." "This experience has been beyond belief. These guys have made a masterpiece, and this team will never be forgotten."
Such hyperbole is a matter for debate, considering that the WTT typically isn't considered a "major" sports league and that its top players appear only in selected matches, creating an atmosphere more comparable to that of a fan-friendly minor league baseball team.
The Lakers, on the other hand, had an undisputed landmark achievement that continues to stand as the high-water mark for the NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball.
Still, winning 34 in a row on any level isn't easy. Among those tipping a hat to the Kastles was Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, who was involved with World TeamTennis in the 1970s as an executive for the Los Angeles Strings.
"Winning 33 consecutive games was an amazing accomplishment by our 1971-72 Lakers team, as evidenced by the fact that no other team has come close to reaching it for over 40 years now," Buss said in a written statement. "On behalf of the Buss family and the Lakers family, I want to congratulate the Washington Kastles, their players, and our good friends (WTT co-founder) Billie Jean King and (WTT Commissioner) Ilana Kloss on this milestone accomplishment of theirs."
The streak has brought invaluable publicity to a league that packs its entire season into a three-week span in July. Jensen's squad is 2-0 this season and is coming off back-to-back WTT titles, going undefeated both years. Washington's last loss came on July 22, 2010, also against the Lobsters. They've become the streamroller of the league.
"I've been really lucky to have had a great Olympic career and a great Davis Cup career," said the Kastles' Leander Paes, who remains one of the top doubles players in the world. "And this is exactly like that."
The streak has included both Venus and Serena Williams, although neither is playing for the Kastles this year. Venus Williams was supposed to make the occasional appearance as the star player in 2013, but she dropped out with a lower back injury. She was on hand to support her teammates Monday night when the streak reached 33, following the customary White House visit with President Barack Obama to celebrate the Kastles' 2012 title. First lady Michelle Obama also attended Monday's match.
With neither Williams on the squad, Hingis is now the Kastles' marquee player in her first year with the team. The 32-year-old Swiss, who won five Grand Slam singles titles in the 1990s and will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this month, paired with Anastasia Rodionova to win the women's doubles and with Paes to take the mixed doubles.
Hingis then cruised past Jill Craybas 5-2 in women's singles, pumping her fist and getting a big hug from Jensen after Craybas' shot landed long to end the set.
"We tried to beat the Kastles with my old team. We always got close," Hingis said. "So if you can't beat them, join them."
Paes and Bobby Reynolds wrapped up the match by winning the men's doubles 5-2 in front of a crowd that nearly filled the Kastles' 3,000-seat stadium along the D.C. waterfront.
Chamberlain, West, Jim McMillian, Gail Goodrich, Pat Riley, and Flynn Robinson all scored in double figures when the Lakers won their 33rd in a row on Jan. 7, 1972, a 134-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that improved Los Angeles to 39-3. The streak ended two nights later with a 120-104 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, who were led — ironically — by 39 points from future Lakers icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Perhaps the best reminder of the Lakers at the stadium Tuesday was the Kastles' public address announcer, who announced the game on stilts, making him more than 7 feet tall.
Streaks also come with superstitions, and Kastles owner Mark Ein was no exception. He donned the same brown dress shoes he wore when the team captured the 2009 title, the day that coach Jensen had all the players put pieces of tape on their shoes to symbolize team unity.
"Before the match, they called me over and said I had to wear it, too," Ein said.
The small pieces of white tape are still on Ein's shoes.
"I definitely can never wear these into a meeting again," he said, "so I figure at least I can wear them out at Kastles Stadium. I've broken them out four or five times for big matches."