Pollard, James Clifford ("Jim")
POLLARD, James Clifford ("Jim")
(b. 9 July 1922 in Oakland, California; d. 22 January 1993 in Stockton, California), basketball player with the Minneapolis Lakers who became the first true small forward in National Basketball Association history.
Pollard was the youngest of four children of Henry Augustus Sherril Pollard, a carpenter, and Suzie Elora Pollard, a homemaker. As a child in Oakland his primary interest was baseball, but in the eighth grade he turned to basketball, a sport he learned to play from his older siblings. Pollard excelled at Oakland Technical High School and earned All-State honors in 1940, his senior year, when he led his team to its third conference title and an undefeated season. As a senior he broke the school's scoring record by tallying 139 points in seven games. Pollard was named All-City and All-County center for two years. He also broke every existing high-school scoring record in the Bay Area and was an honorary scholastic All-American in 1939. During his senior year he was recruited by the former Stanford University basketball star Angelo "Hank" Luisetti to attend Stanford University.
As a Stanford sophomore in 1942, Pollard led the Indians to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in a 53–38 victory over Dartmouth. Although the flu prevented him from playing in the championship game, he was the tournament's high scorer. As a sophomore sensation, Pollard teamed with Howie Dallmar, Ed Voss, Don Burness, and Bill Cowden to form one of the finest quintets in NCAA basketball history. He led the team to the Pacific Coast Championship, was selected as an All-American, was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team, and was the league's second-leading scorer.
Pollard's college career was cut short during World War II. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Coast Guard and played service basketball, where he excelled. After his service ended, Pollard went to San Diego, where he played for the Dons of the American Amateur League. He had an outstanding season in 1946–1947 as the league's high scorer and was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP). In the 1947–1948 season Pollard returned to the Bay Area to play for the Oakland Bittners, a strong Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team. His sixteen-point average led the league in scoring. During the season Pollard enrolled at San Francisco State University to continue his studies toward a degree in physical education. Prior to entering professional basketball, Pollard was named the MVP in the 1948 College All-Star game held in Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Herald. In that game he scored nineteen points, breaking the individual scoring record set by George Mikan in 1946.
Beginning in the 1947–1948 season, Pollard joined the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball League (NBL). For the next eight seasons he was a mainstay on the Lakers teams that won championships in three different professional leagues—the NBL, Basketball Association of America (BAA), and National Basketball Association (NBA). Pollard was the first multitalented and multiskilled forward in NBA history. His versatility served as the model for all future NBA small forwards. Known as the "Kangaroo Kid" for his jumping ability, Pollard became the NBA's first true small forward through his ability to score, rebound, and defend. In addition, he was one of the few players of his era who could dunk a basketball. During his career he was considered one of the cleanest players in basketball, and in one three-year period he committed only 194 personal fouls.
During his first season with the Lakers, Pollard averaged 12.9 points in fifty-nine games and helped the Lakers capture the NBL championship. He was named to the All-NBL First Team and to the NBL Rookie Team. He missed being the NBL Rookie of the Year by one vote to Sheboygan's Marko Torodorvich. Before the start of the 1948–1949 season, the Lakers left the NBL and moved their franchise to another league, the upstart and rival BAA. The Lakers continued to dominate and won the BAA championship, and Pollard continued to excel. He averaged 14.8 points and 2.7 assists per game and was named to the All-BAA First Team.
After the NBL and BAA merged to form the NBA in 1949–1950, Pollard played on championship teams with Minneapolis in 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954. Along with the center George Mikan and the power forward Vern Mikkelsen, he helped to form perhaps the greatest frontline in NBA history. With a dominant center, rugged power forward, and versatile small forward, the Lakers were the NBA's first dynasty and the model for all other teams hoping to build a championship squad.
Pollard's greatness and value to the team rested not just with his statistical contributions but with his ability to do the little things to win games. The former scoring leader was willing to sacrifice his scoring to be on a winning team. Unconcerned with headlines, Pollard deferred attention to the better-known Mikan, the NBA's first superstar. Despite playing behind Mikan, Pollard enjoyed an exceptional career. A four-time NBA All-Star (1951, 1952, 1954, 1955), he scored in double figures each year to finish with a 13.4 average. He was an All-NBA First Team in 1950, an All-NBA Second Team in 1952 and 1954, and the first team captain in Laker history. In 1952 Pollard was selected as the top basketball player by a Sporting News poll of seven six-year BAA/NBA veterans, finishing ahead of Mikan.
In 1954 Pollard earned a B.S. degree from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis Saint Paul, where he had studied since 1951. The following year he was chosen as the All-Time Pacific Coast Forward along with Hank Luisetti by sportswriters and sportscasters. After retiring from basketball in 1955–1956, Pollard began a coaching career at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his teams compiled a 48–28 record in three seasons. In 1959–1960 he briefly coached the Minneapolis Lakers, taking over for John Castellani and posting a 14–25 record in the regular season. In the 1961–1962 season Pollard was hired to coach the newly formed Chicago Packers of the NBA. During his single season in Chicago, the Packers compiled an 18–62 record and finished fifth in the Western Division.
In 1964 Pollard was selected by the Academy of Sports as one of ten players for its All-Time NBA Team. After several years away from coaching, Pollard returned to coach the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association in 1967–1968. The Muskies finished with the second-best record in the league, 50–28. After the team moved to Miami and became the Floridians, he coached for two more years. From 1971 through 1973 he was the basketball coach and athletic director at Florida's Fort Lauderdale University.
In 1977 Pollard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, National AAU Hall of Fame, Bay Area Hall of Fame, and Stanford Hall of Fame. In 1979 he moved to Lodi, California, with his wife, Arilee Hansen, whom he had married on 24 June 1944, and their three children. He served both the Lodi Unified School District and the California Youth Authority as a teacher, counselor, and coach, and also was a teacher at Senior Elementary School and Delta Sierra Middle School. Pollard died at age seventy due to complications from blockage of the bowels. His body was cremated and the remains interred at Lodi Memorial Cemetery in Lodi. A smooth shooter whose game was graced with finesse and class, Pollard enjoyed a stellar career with the Minneapolis Lakers. With his all-around ability to score, defend, rebound, and pass, Pollard became the NBA's prototypical small forward.
Material about Pollard is available from his Hall of Famer file at the Basketball Hall of Fame. For additional information on his career, see Bill Carlson, "Pollard Chosen No. 1 Pro by NBA's Six-Year Vets," Minneapolis Star (16 Dec. 1952), and Carl Underwood, "Jim Pollard an Innovative Basketball Pioneer," Lodi News-Sentinel (16 Feb. 1993). For information about the Minneapolis Lakers and the early days of the NBA, see Stew Thornley, Basketball's Original Dynasty: A History of the Lakers (1989); Jack Clary, Basketball's Great Dynasties: The Lakers (1992); and Roland Lazenby, The Lakers: A Basketball Journey (1993).
Douglas A. Starkm