Each day it becomes more of a reality, this ambition, this drive the Los Angeles Lakers have to be remembered as one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Their aspiration is to race through the playoffs to the world championship without a single setback, without once having to stop and adjust, without ever having to say "we lost."
By rallying to beat Philadelphia, 124-117, in the opener of this best-of-seven championship series, the Lakers became the first team ever to win nine straight playoff games in a season. The only goal remaining now is a perfect sweep, a 12-game blitz that could never be topped.
Following a workout today at the Spectrum in preparation for Sunday's second game (WDVM-TV-9 at 1 p.m.), the delicate subject was broached to Coach Pat Riley.
"Sure, I think about it, I'm sure all the players have, but it's just not something we like to talk about in public," Riley said. "We sure don't want the 76ers to read that we think we can win four straight. You know coaches have to think one game at a time."
The record, though, is so special. It's something that would never be forgotten, something that would rank among the greatest team achievements in sports.
"I've never used records as a primary motivation," he said. "But they read about it, it's out there and I think it's something they should be proud of.
"The only thing I say is, 'You've come this far, you've won nine straight. There is the possibility you could go out as one of the greatest teams of all time.' "
In the 36-year history of the NBA, there have been only three sweeps in the championship series (the Bullets were the victims twice, losing to Milwaukee in 1971 and Golden State in 1975). This season the Lakers became the first team ever to sweep best-of-seven series back to back when they raced past Phoenix and San Antonio.
"I was on a team once that won 33 in row," Riley continued, alluding to the 1971-72 Lakers, featuring Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, who set the NBA record for consecutive victories. "They still talk about that. So, in 1990, let's say, they'll still be talking about it if we can win 12 straight. We're going for it, but our main concern is just winning the title."
The players dream about a 12-game sweep as though it's a fantasy just possible to fulfill.
"We don't sit around and talk about it, but it's there, in the back of everybody's mind," Norm Nixon, the Lakers' multitalented young guard said. "You can't ignore it because guys like you are starting to talk about it. It's not something we would discuss, but I think deep down inside it's giving all of us an extra incentive.
"I think about it when I'm by myself," he said. "You know it's something very special, something nobody else has done before. It would make us part of history. With each victory it becomes more and more of a reality. We know now it's possible. If we win tomorrow, we've got the next two games at home."
There is no doubt that the Lakers are at the top of their game. Since Bob McAdoo blended in as a high-scoring seventh man, the team has won 19 of its last 21 games, including 11 in a row dating back to the regular season.
"The first game was typical of the way we've been playing for the last two months," said Jamaal Wilkes, who scored 16 of his 24 points during a third-quarter flurry when the Lakers overcame a 15-point deficit. "We always have a couple of spurts, we just never know when they'll come."
Wilkes, a member of the Golden State team that beat the Bullets in the '75 finals, admits he's thinking of another sweep.
"The way we're playing now, it's difficult to imagine us losing," the eight-year veteran forward said. "Very few teams can stop us if we're playing our best. The other night, I kind of had the feeling I was leading the team, but that's what makes our team so good. We've got a lot of guys who can do that . . . It would be a great accomplishment and earn us a place in history. We know now we have a shot at it. If it comes, that's great, but as long as we win the series, that's all that's really important."