The Miami Heat won 27 straight games. Chris Parisi says you can hate the Streakers, but you’ve got to respect the Streak.
As the Sabres took down the Penguins the other night, ending Pittsburgh’s winning streak just 2 shy of their own NHL record, 17 straight, set during the 1992-93 season, I considered that it was the second winning streak in a week I’d seen come pretty close to and then fall just short of a record.
Even though they didn’t set the record, even though I am not what one would call a Heat fan, I felt I needed to replay the last week and a half of Miami’s terrific run.
Sports are measured in totals, by numbers that almost diminish the myriad heroic and tragic acts of the games themselves, numbers that become microcosms, numbers that become the ultimate deciders—who has more of whatever than anyone else? More rings. More cups. More glass. More bling.
Streaks in sports are enticing, riveting. They’re never old news, and regardless of whether we love the Streak or hate the Streaker, regardless of whether we played the sport or ever actually caught a game on TV during the Streak, we can appreciate the accomplishment.
Grudgingly in some cases, gleefully in others, we acknowledge that History is in the making.
There are Streaks that may never be broken.
In the 1970’s, the UCLA men’s basketball team won 88 straight games, including consecutive 30-0 seasons while repeating as National Champions. The Connecticut women won 90 consecutive games between the fall of 2008 and December of 2010, a streak that also included two undefeated national championship teams.
Not all Streaks are fun, though.
Between 1976 and 1977, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 26 consecutive football games.
Pittsburgh has been on both the long and the short of it. The Penguins might own the NHL’s longest winning streak, but the Pirates, after collapsing down the stretch last year, own Major League Baseball’s record for consecutive losing seasons—20.
We find ourselves drawn anytime a Streak is challenged. It doesn’t matter what the Streak is—a winning run, a losing trend, a favorite team making its mark or a hated rival trying to make some noise. Moth, meet flame.
Above all else, a Streak is good for the game. At the very least, it draws attention, brings fans, creates buzz, and keeps the sport and the team relevant.
And in this age of instant internet gratification and ultra-short attention spans, relevancy becomes God. If in doubt, ask FILA, international wrestling’s governing body, or the International Olympic Committee.
So we come back to that recent NBA Streak, the Miami Heat’s pursuit of 33 straight victories, which fell 6 short of the mark set by the Los Angeles Lakers’ during their 1971-’72 championship season.
Though they did not break the record, the Heat’s 27 wins in a row is still impressive. Most impressive.
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh vs Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.
Present vs Past, Not Yet History Setters vs History Set. Both champions, battling across the generations.
The Streak trended. And the Past mattered again.
Miami’s quest started innocently enough, a 100-85 pasting of our friends to the North, the Toronto Raptors, back on February 3rd. They eked out wins against the Bobcats and Rockets, smacked the Clippers, beat the Lakers, Portland, the Thunder in Oklahoma, three more on the road. . . and on and on and on, home and away, against worthy foes and cannon fodder.
I began to take notice at 14, and I watched. Maybe not all the games, but I kept track and grumbled a bit while the debates began to fly about The Greatest Team Ever.
The Heat won in overtime, and double-OT. They won by an average of more than ten points. 19 of the 27 wins were against Eastern Conference teams. They came from behind as often as not, and from pretty big margins. LeBron James was – is – a monster of a basketball player, no more so than during The Streak.
When The Streak hit 17 against the Philadelphia 76ers, I really started paying attention. This was hallowed ground, now. 17 wins in a row in the NBA is hard.
They hit 18 against the Pacers.
The Heat won their 19th by beating the Atlanta Hawks, surpassing the winning streaks of teams like the 1995-’96 Bulls, NBA champions with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; the 1981-’82 Celtics, a year removed from the first trophy of the Bird, McHale and Parish era; the 1969-’70 champion Knicks, led by Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed; and Wilt The Stilt’s 1966-’67 championship 76ers.
Adding insult to injury, they also surpassed my hometown Rochester Royals’ 1950-’51 championship team, with Red Holtzman and Ed Mikan, brother of original big man George Mikan, Mr. Basketball.
At this point, I no longer liked what I was seeing. I don’t know why I cared so much, it didn’t matter, but I couldn’t help myself, and even though I now was a fan of whoever was playing the Heat, I was still really watching the Streaker.
The Heat’s 20th consecutive victory came as they defeated the Sixers again, taking them past another Celtics team also a year removed from a ring, the 2008-’09 New Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And fittingly, they also overtook another Lakers squad, the 2000-’01 championship version with Shaq and Kobe instead of Jerry and Wilt.
A 1971-’72 Milwaukee Bucks team featuring a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and an older Oscar Robertson fell next. Some irony there: the Heat passing the historic Bucks while beating the current Bucks for win # 21.
Win #21 also put them past the 1948-’49 Washington Capitols, coached by a very young, tough Arnold “Red” Auerbach. That streak spanned two seasons, but what the hell, it’s Red.
The Heat hit #22 against the Raptors, tying the 2008-‘09 Houston Rockets, who did nothing of particular import that year—other than win 22 games in a row.
Who was to stop the Heat now? The undermanned Celtics were the best chance, had a 17 point lead in the waning moments of the 2nd quarter, but then ran into LBJ, who carried the Heat to win # 23 in the second half.
The Cavs, with a vendetta that will never, ever go away (nor should it), had an insurmountable 27 point lead. But, being Cleveland, they gacked it away, and the Heat had #24.
Bobcats? Pistons? Magic? Nope, nada, negatorie.
March 27th, Chicago. A month and a half since the Heat had lost a game. I found myself rooting for the Bulls, who I really can’t stand, to preserve a record for the hated Lakers.
I’m a Celtics fan. I cheered at the final buzzer. Then I felt nauseous.
Hated The Streaker. But I followed The Streak. And grudgingly gave the Heat their due. 27 games without a loss. Great drama.
And now the Knicks have won 11 in a row. Go figure.
Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer