American basketball player
Destined to become one of the first of basketball's most talented big men, as a young man George Mikan was discouraged from seriously pursuing basketball because of his ungainly height and his acute nearsightedness, conditions that most coaches during the early 1940s believed would leave Mikan hopelessly clumsy. At 6 foot, 10 inches, he towered over other players of his day when smaller, quicker players dominated the game. Mikan would change all that with his shot-blocking abilities and his deadly hook shot. After four successful years of basketball at DePaul University under Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer, Mikan entered professional basketball in 1946 and quickly became a star. Playing all but his first year of pro ball with the Minneapolis Lakers (later to become the Los Angeles Lakers), he led his team to six championship titles in seven years. His nine-year presence on the court greatly influenced the development of the modern game of basketball.
The Path to Basketball
Mikan was born on June 18, 1924, in Joliet, Illinois, the first son of Joe and Minnie Mikan, owners of a restaurant-bar where Mikan and his two brothers, Joe and Ed, worked after school. Already five feet, nine inches at the age of eight, Mikan towered over his classmates, reaching six feet by the age of 11. His unusual height made him shy, awkward, and extremely self-conscious. During a summer pickup game of basketball, Mikan broke his leg. The leg failed to heal properly, and he spent the next 18 months bedridden. During that time he continued to grow, and when he took his first steps a year and a half later, he was six feet, seven inches.
After attending Quigley Prep School, Mikan enrolled at DePaul University. Over the Christmas holidays during his freshman year, Mikan tried out for George Keogan, the famed basketball coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The tryout was an undisputed disappointment. Facing the varsity squad, who were under instructions from Keogan to throw the ball at his feet, Mikan appeared phenomenally uncoordinated and slow. Keogan's final judgment was that Mikan was hopelessly clumsy.
Mikan returned to DePaul to discovered that the university had fired the basketball coach and hired Ray Meyer, an assistant coach from Notre Dame who had witnessed Mikan's abysmal tryout performance. Expecting Meyer's opinion to be similar to Keogan's, Mikan did not have good feelings about his chances to play for DePaul. However, on the first day of spring practice, Meyer dismissed the rest of the team to work daily for six weeks with Mikan alone. Meyer ran Mikan through a variety of drills to strengthen his coordination. He skipped rope, shadow boxed, ran, and spent hours practicing left- and right-handed hook shots and tap-ins. The long hours of practice paid off as Mikan's footwork and confidence continued to improve.
In 1944, 1945, and 1946 Mikan was named an All-American, and he led the nation in scoring in 1945 and 1946 with an average of 23.9 points per game (ppg) and 23.1 ppg, respectively. During the 1944-45 season, primarily because Mikan had become so effective at swatting the ball away from the opponent's basket that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) instituted a new rule that prohibited goaltending, namely, the ball could not be blocked on the way down toward the basket.
Despite the new goaltending rule, Mikan and his team excelled under Meyer's leadership. Reaching the 1945 NIT championship game, DePaul easily overcame Bowling Green State University, winning 71-54. During the tournament Mikan set 10 individual records, including a tremendous performance against Rhode Island at Madison Square Garden in which he scored 53 points. His total scoring for three games totaled a new record of 120 points, and he was selected for the tournament's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Mikan finished his college career with an average of 19.8 ppg, and over those four years, DePaul's record was 81-17.
After the 1946 collegiate season ended Mikan signed a professional contract with the National Basketball League's (NBL) Chicago Gears for $60,000 over five years plus a $25,000 signing bonus, making Mikan the highest paid pro basketball player to date. In the same year he married Patricia Lu Deveny; they had four sons and two daughters. Joining the team in mid-season, Mikan played in 25 games, averaging 16.5 ppg. The Gears won the 1947 NBL championship, and Mikan was named to the All-NBL Team. However, the following year the Gears franchise folded, and the team's players were distributed among the NBL teams.
The First Basketball Dynasty
The Minneapolis Lakers had first shot at signing Mikan. Although he intended his trip to Minneapolis a mere formality, as he did not want to live in Minnesota, Mikan ended up signing a one-year contract for $12,500. As a member of the Lakers, Mikan helped establish the first dynasty in the history of professional basketball. At the end of his first season with the team, he led the league in scoring with 1,195 points in 56 games, for an average of 21.3 ppg. The Lakers were 51-19 for the year and won the NBL championship, taking the best-of-five game series against the Rochester Royals. Mikan, who averaged 27.5 ppg in the finals, was the unanimous choice for MVP.
In 1948 the Lakers were among four NBL teams to join the Basketball Association of America (BAA), a growing and competitive league. Despite being edged out of the BAA's Western Division title by Rochester, who also made the league switch, the Lakers reached the finals of postseason play, beating Red Auerbach 's Washington Capitols in the best-of-seven series. Despite playing with a broken wrist in the final two games, Mikan averaged over 30 ppg in the series. He finished the season as the league's leading scorer, averaging 28.3 ppg.
In 1949 Mikan, who had been attending law school in the off season, passed the bar. In the same year the BAA merged with the American Basketball Association to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). During the first year of NBA's existence, Mikan, along with the support of several exceptional teammates that included Vern Mikkelson, Jim Pollard, Arnie Ferrin, and Slater Martin, took the Lakers to another championship title. The Lakers' NBA championship in 1950 was the franchise's third title in three years, each in a different league. Mikan led the NBA in scoring during the 1949-50 season with an average of 27.4 ppg.
|1924||Born in Joliet, Illinois|
|1942-46||Four-year letter winner at DePaul University under Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer|
|1946||Leads nation in scoring, averaging 23.1 points per game (ppg)|
|1946-47||Plays for the National Basketball League's (NBL) Chicago Gears|
|1947-54||Star player for the Minneapolis Lakers|
|1948||Wins NBL championship with the Lakers|
|1949||Wins BAA championship with the Lakers; passes the Bar to become a lawyer|
|1950||Wins National Basketball Association (NBA) championship with the Lakers|
|1952-54||Wins three consecutive NBA championships with the Lakers|
|1954||Retires at the end of the 1953-54 season as the league's all-time leading scorer, with 11,764 points (22.6 ppg)|
|1955||Returns to Lakers during 1955-56 season for 37 games|
|1956||Retires from playing for good; runs for a congressional seat but loses election|
|1957-58||Coaches the Lakers for 39 games before resigning, posting a record of only 9 wins and 30 losses|
|1967||Becomes first Commissioner of the new American Basketball Association (ABA) league and is credited with introducing the league's trademark red, white, and blue ball.|
|1969||Resigns as ABA commissioner to resume law practice in Minneapolis|
|2000||Right leg is amputated below the knee due to complications from diabetes|
Related Biography: Basketball Coach Ray Meyer
Known for his passion for the game and his ability to teach and motivate his players, Ray Meyer served as the head basketball coach of DePaul's Blue Demons from 1942 to 1984. His record of 724 wins and 354 losses included 37 winning seasons, thirteen National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) post-season appearances and eight National Invitational Tournament (NIT) appearances, twelve 20-win seasons, two NCAA Final Four appearances (1943 and 1978), and a NIT title (1945).
Meyer, who played college basketball for the Irish, led his team to a 40-6 record during his junior and senior years. After graduating, Meyer spent two years as a social worker before returning to Notre Dame as an assistant coach. Meyer arrived at DePaul in 1942, the same year that young George Mikan came to the school. Meyer, who had encountered Mikan the previous year during the gangly young man's failed attempt to try out for the Notre Dame team, recognized Mikan's potential. Using drills such as jumping rope and shadow boxing, Meyer helped Mikan improve his coordination and guided him on his way to becoming one of the game's most influential players.
During the 1950-51 NBA season Mikan was once again the leading scorer, with 28.4 ppg, but the Lakers failed to earn their fourth title when the Rochester Roy upended them in the semifinals of postseason play. Mikan was slowed down during the series by a fractured leg. The following year the Lakers managed to regain the NBA title, but Mikan finished second in scoring with 23.8 ppg, behind Philadelphia's Paul Arizin. The Lakers remained the dominant force in the NBA for the next two years, winning championships again in 1953 and 1954, the team's second three-peat. In his last two full seasons of play, Mikan averaged 20.6 and 18.1 ppg, respectively.
In 1954 Mikan shocked his teammates and Laker fans by announcing his retirement. Wanting to quit while he was still at the top of his game, Mikan decided to pursue the practice of law. Nonetheless, he soon found himself drawn back to the game and team he loved, agreeing to serve as the Lakers' general manager for the next year and a half. However, during the 1955-56 season, in response to a significant decline in attendance due primarily to his absence on the court and the Lakes' subsequent slump, Mikan came out of retirement to play 37 games. But, out of shape and out of practice, he averaged under 11 ppg and retired from playing for good at the end of the season.
Despite the lack of any overwhelming name recognition by today's basketball fans, Mikan is considered one of the most influential basketball players in the history of the NBA. Known as "Mr. Basketball," Mikan's dominance on the floor led to the rule change that widened the three-second lane from six to twelve feet and goaltending rules were revised. Mikan is also credited with the institution of the twenty-four-second shot clock, which was eventually put in place after the Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons) stalled an entire game against the Lakers in 1950 to remove Mikan's scoring threat. Although he still managed to put in fifteen points, the Lakers lost the game 19-18, the lowest score in NBA history. As evidence of his tenacious play, during his career Mikan suffered ten broken bones and took 166 stitches.
Not only was Mikan the league's first dominating big man, he was the first player to become a major drawing card to bring fans to the NBA. His fierce competitive spirit, rough-and-ready play, and affable character made him a star attraction in every city he played. As Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Springer noted in 2001, "Mikan was 'big' before [Wilt] Chamberlain . He was the master of the hook before [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar . He was Superman before Shaquille O'Neal , Clark Kent before Kurt Rambis. He brought winning times to the Lakers before [Magic] Johnson was born and put the NBA on the map half a century before Michael Jordan took it into the stratosphere." Perhaps the greatest tribute to Mikan's talent and influence on professional basketball came on December 13, 1949, in a game between the Lakers and the New York Knicks. The marquee over Madison Square Garden, where the game was to be played, read "GEO. MIKAN VS. KNICKS."
Mikan, who established a successful business and law practice in Minneapolis, made two other brief returns to professional basketball. During the 1957-58 season he served as the team's head coach, but after the team won only 9 of its first 39 games with Mikan at the helm, he stepped aside. When the now-defunct American Basketball Association organized in 1967, Mikan accepted an offer to become the league's first commissioner, a position he held for two years.
|Chicago: Chicago Gears; Minneapolis: Minneapolis Lakers.|
Awards and Accomplishments
|At the time of his retirement in 1954, Mikan was the league's all-time lead-ing scorer with 11,764 points, averaging 22.6 points per game.|
|1946||Named National Player of the Year|
|1947||National Basketball League (NBL) championship with the Chicago Gears|
|1947-48||Named to the All-NBL First Team|
|1948||NBL championship with the Minneapolis Lakers|
|1948||Named NBL's Most Valuable Player|
|1949||Basketball Association of America (BAA) championship with the Lakers|
|1949||Named to the All-BAA First Team|
|1950||National Basketball League (NBA) championship with the Lakers|
|1950||Named basketball's greatest player of the half-century|
|1950-54||Selected as an NBA All-Star|
|1952-54||NBA championship with the Lakers|
|1953||NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player|
|1959||Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame|
|1970||Named to the NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team|
|1980||Named to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team|
|1996||Named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team|
Mikan remained in Minneapolis until the 1990s when he and his wife moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. Diagnosed with diabetes when he was 62 years old, Mikan had his right leg amputated below the knee in early 2000. A prosthesis allowed him to regain his mobility, but he must undergo dialysis treatment three times every week. In 2001 Mikan was honored at the halftime of a game between the Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves, and a nine-foot bronze statute was unveiled out-side the Target Center, the Timberwolves' arena. Mikan is a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and was selected as the greatest basketball player of the first half of the twentieth century.
Address: Scottsdale, Arizona.
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Sketch by Kari Bethel
"Mikan, George." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mikan-george
"Mikan, George." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mikan-george
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George Mikan (born 1924) has been described by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as" the first dominant big man in professional basketball and the game's first superstar." At six feet, ten inches, he towered over most other college and professional players of the 1940s and 1950s. As a player for the Minneapolis Lakers (later the Los Angeles Lakers), Mikan repeatedly helped lead the team to league championships. When he retired after nine professional seasons, Mikan held the record for the most career points scored, 11,764.
No one who knew George Lawrence Mikan as a boy would have guessed that he would grow up to become one of the first superstars of professional basketball. Born into a Croatian family in a small Illinois town, Mikan was one of three brothers, all of whom helped out at the family's restaurant. All of the brothers were tall, but George Mikan stood out from other boys his age. By the time he was 11, he was well over six feet tall and often was the target of taunting, because he also was very awkward and wore thick glasses. Mikan's only early sports interest was the game of marbles, in which he won a countywide marble-shooting championship.
When he entered high school, Mikan made the basketball team but was cut after the coach found out he could not play without his glasses. Mikan began to play on the local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) team but soon afterward broke his leg when he stepped on a ball. His great height—which eventually topped at six feet, ten inches— was accompanied by very brittle bones, a problem that would plague him throughout his basketball career. Mikan's doctor thought that he would not be able to play again after breaking his leg, and he could not even walk normally for more than a year. He decided to become a priest, but then began to play again once his leg healed. Hoping for an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame University, Mikan was crushed when the school's coach told him he never could be a good basketball player because he was too tall and slow. Although many more recent players have been even taller than Mikan, at that time he was viewed almost as a freak.
Fortunately for Mikan, another school viewed him differently. DePaul University then was little known in the world of basketball. It had just hired a new coach, Ray Meyer, who saw Mikan play and decided to work with the tall, awkward boy with thick glasses. DePaul gave him a full athletic scholarship, a decision it never regretted. Meyer helped Mikan to condition his body and shoot more accurately—and also to stop being embarrassed about his height.
All of this work paid off when Mikan blossomed into a star center for the DePaul team. Centers traditionally had simply swatted the ball away from the opposing team, leaving it to other players to shoot baskets, but Mikan also became an excellent scorer. In fact, his protection of the basket was perhaps too good; men's basketball rules were changed during his college years to prohibit goaltending, which forced him to stand farther from the basket. However, this change barely affected his playing or his team's success. Mikan led all college teams in scoring for the 1944-45 and 1945-46 seasons, averaging more than 23 points per game both years. He became a three-time All-American and was named college player of the year in 1946. In a championship semifinal game against Rhode Island—won by DePaul 97-53—Mikan set a Madison Square Garden record by scoring 53 points.
Led Lakers to Championships
When Mikan graduated from DePaul in 1946, he went to the Chicago Gears professional team with a five-year contract. His $12,000 annual salary was the highest ever paid to a basketball player. During his rookie season, Mikan scored an average of 16.5 points per game and helped the Gears win their league's championship. Although Mikan drew many new fans, the Gears were financially unstable and the team went bankrupt after his rookie season. Johnny Kundla, coach of the new franchise Minneapolis Lakers, picked Mikan. Setting up this new team did not go smoothly. Kundla, a college coach, had been the Lakers' third choice for coach, and they originally had selected another player as starting center for the team. When Mikan was offered this job, he thought that Minnesota was too far from his home base in Chicago. But he was convinced to sign on after he met with the management, missed his flight home, and the sportswriter who was driving him convinced him how wonderful the area was. The Lakers outdid the Gears' record salary offer to Mikan, giving him a one-year contract for $12,500.
After Mikan began playing for the Lakers in 1947, he became the first real celebrity of professional basketball. When the team traveled to New York City's Madison Square Garden, the marquee would read "Tonight: George Mikan vs. Knicks." Many fans came just to see this giant of a man play. Some sportswriters credit him with saving basketball as a professional sport, especially since various franchises and leagues would open and then fold within a few years. Although Mikan often dominated the court, he was not a one-man team. During the late 1940s and early 1950s the Lakers also acquired such outstanding players as Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen, and Slater Martin. With this outstanding team in place, the Lakers went on to win league championships in six out of seven years (1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954). In 1950 the Associated Press named Mikan the greatest basketball player of the first half of the twentieth century. The Lakers lost to Rochester in the division finals in 1951, probably because Mikan had been injured. He insisted on playing in the series against Rochester with a fractured leg. Mikan described these games for Newsday in 1990: "The doctors taped a plate on it [the broken leg] for the playoffs. I played all right, scored in the 20s. I couldn't run, sort of hopped down the court."
Other teams used many tricks to stop the Lakers, usually unsuccessfully. The strategy with the oddest outcome was one the Fort Wayne Pistons tried during a game in 1950. Since the Lakers were averaging 84 points per game, the Pistons decided to play slowly to reduce the scoring possibilities. At that time there was no rule limiting a team's time of possession, so the Pistons spent much of the game walking and standing with the ball. The strategy worked; the Pistons won by a score of 19-18, the lowest point total in National Basketball League (NBA) history. But even in this game the Pistons could not stop Mikan, who scored 15 of the Lakers' 18 points. The 24-second shot clock was instituted a few years later, largely in response to this game.
Following the 1953-54 season, Mikan surprised basketball fans by announcing his retirement. He was only 30, but the sport had taken a heavy toll on his body. During his career he had fractured both of legs, both feet, a wrist, several fingers, and his nose (numerous times). He had had 166 stitches, suffered from a permanent limp, lost a kneecap, and could not straighten his arms fully. Mikan also wanted to spend more time with his family. As he recalled for Sports Illustrated in 1989, "I came home one day and picked up my second son, Terry, and he began crying. He was afraid of me, because he didn't know who I was. It broke my heart." Despite his physical condition, Mikan was persuaded to return to the Lakers for the 1955-56 season. However, his best playing days clearly were over; he played in only 37 games and scored only 390 points. After that season, Mikan once again announced his retirement, this time for good. During his nine-season professional career, Mikan had led the league in scoring six times (1946-52). He also set a league record by scoring a career total of 11,764 points (an average of 22.6 points per game).
Returned to World of Sports
The season after Mikan retired permanently from professional playing, John Kundla—who had coached the Lakers since their founding—decided to move into the team's front office. Mikan seemed the logical choice to replace Kundla, but his coaching career, which lasted only the first half of the 1957-58 season, was short and disastrous. The Lakers started with a 9-30 record, and Mikan stepped down to let Kundla finish coaching the season. The Lakers could not rise again to the heights of their championship years and they lost many fans. And the stadium they used held only 8,000 people; it often was booked with trade shows during playoff season and the Lakers had to rent college gyms. In 1960 the team's management announced that it was leaving Minnesota and moving to Los Angeles, which had no professional franchise. Mikan decided to leave basketball entirely; he practiced law, renovated real estate in Minneapolis, and spent more time with his family. One consolation to him had to be that, when the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame elected its first inductees in 1959, Mikan was one of the players honored.
In 1967 Mikan returned to his beloved sport as the first commissioner of the new and short-lived American Basketball Association (ABA). During his two years as commissioner, he created the league's distinctive red, white, and blue basketball. Mikan then once again returned to his law practice but could not stay away from sports for long. In the mid-1980s Mikan and a group of Minneapolis businessmen convinced the National Basketball Association (NBA) to start a new team in Minnesota, the Timberwolves. He also became involved in a number of other business enterprises such as a California recreational vehicle company. In 1993 Mikan discovered a new sport: roller hockey. When Dennis Murphy (who also had founded the ABA) decided to expand his Roller Hockey International franchises, he asked Mikan to buy a team, and Mikan became the owner of the new Chicago Cheetahs.
Mikan looked back on his career and at modern basketball for Sports Illustrated in 1996. He acknowledged that the game had undergone huge changes. For instance, during his professional career Mikan's salary was only a fraction of what has been paid to superstars in recent years, and there were only a few thousand fans at many games. Mikan expressed one regret about the direction of the game: that it lacked the teamwork passing of earlier days, when "going upcourt, the ball wouldn't hit the floor."
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"George Mikan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-mikan
"George Mikan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-mikan