When discussing the greatest Lakers of all time, the name George Mikan is often forgotten in most circles. Mikan’s playing days ended long before most of us were born, and long before basketball reached the popularity that it is at today. But, George Mikan is not only one of the greatest Lakers of all time, he’s one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, and he paved the way for other greats who are higher on this list.
Mikan joined the Minneapolis Lakers in 1947 by way of the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League and DePaul University. A stroke of luck landed Mikan with the Lakers after the Gears were pulled out of the NBL and the president of the team Maurice White’s ill-fated attempt at creating a new basketball league failed. All the players on the Gears were distributed among the remaining teams in the NBL, and Mikan just so happened to end up with the Minneapolis Lakers.
He played with the Lakers until 1956, and during that time helped the team to 5 NBA Championships. So, of the 16 NBA Titles won in the franchises’ illustrious history, Mikan helped them to nearly a third of them; the same number of titles won by Magic and Kobe.
He averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds per game during his career, led the NBA in scoring three times, made four All-Star teams including an All-Star game MVP, and was named to the All-BAA/NBA team six times. In 1996, he was named one of the 50 greatest players of all time after previously being apart of the NBA’s 25th and 35th anniversary teams.
Mikan completely revolutionized the game of basketball. At 6-feet-10 inches tall, nobody thought Mikan would be able to play the game. It was a short man’s game, but Mikan’s dominance helped paved the way for every other post player that came after him.
He was so dominant that the NBA had to change its rules to slow him down. The NBA adopted the “Mikan Rule” before the 1951-52 season to widen the lane from six to twelve feet. The introduction of the shot clock and goaltending was due in large part to slow the big man down.
Current NBA commissioner David Stern credits Mikan as being the NBA’s first true superstar. He was the pioneer of basketball; the original center. The Associated Press named Mikan the greatest basketball player of the first half of the century, and he was a member of the inaugural basketball Hall of Fame class of 1959.
Two other Laker greats, who are ranked higher than Mikan on this list, credited him for paving their way into the league.
Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, dominated the league thanks to his patented sky-hook shot. He credited Mikan with giving him the fundamentals to master the shot, as Jabbar, along with every other big man to this day, have practiced the “Mikan Drill” which teaches players to shoot hook shots with either hand. Kareem obviously took his skills to another level with his hook shot, but that wouldn’t have been possible without Mikan.
Perhaps the big man most impressed with the legacy of George Mikan is Shaquille O’Neal, who upon learning of Mikan’s death in 2005, offered to pay for his funeral. His offer was accepted by the Mikan family.
Shaq went as far as to say, “I know who he was and what he did. Without George Mikan, there’d be no me.”
Before Mikan, it was thought that big guys were too clumsy to play a little man’s game, but he proved everyone wrong and completely dominated the league during his career.
It is easy to forget about George Mikan, but the fact is that he was the greatest player of his era, and he was a winner above all. And, at the end of the day, nothing is more important to Lakers fans than winning championships. Leading the team to five of them is more than enough reason for his inclusion on this list.
He certainly belongs in the pantheon of not only Lakers greats, but among the greatest players in the history of basketball.