George Mikan, the NBA’s first superstar center: How the Lakers legend paved the way for Wilt, Kareem and Shaq

George Mikan may never have played a professional game at California State, but he is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in Lakers history.

In the Lakers’ 75-year history, some of the game’s greatest centers have donned the purple and gold, from Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal and, yes, Dwight Howard. At the head of this long line of centers is Mikan – not in the sense of being the best or most accomplished of the group, but in the sense of being first in line, paving the way for others to follow his path. .

As part of the Lakers’ 75th anniversary celebration throughout the year, the the franchise will raise Mikan’s number 99 in the rafters of Crypto.com Arena, honoring the impact the all-time player had long before the franchise moved to Los Angeles.

Learn about the legacy that helped lay the foundation for one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports.

How George Mikan paved the way for Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal

A year before the NBA was known as the NBA, the Minneapolis Lakers entered the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and took the league by storm thanks in large part to Mikan, their dominant 6-year-old center. feet 10 inches. The 1948-49 regular season saw Mikan average 28.3 points in 60 games as the Lakers posted a 47-13 record. In the playoffs, Mikan averaged 30.3 points per game to lead Minneapolis to the BAA title, which is actually the first-ever NBA title.

If you’re wondering about his boards, rebounds weren’t a recorded stat until Mikan’s third NBA season.

The Lakers’ 1949 title was the first of five they would win in six seasons. During that span, Mikan averaged 24.3 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game and played in each of the first four All-Star Games in league history.

While the league was still in its infancy, Mikan was one of the first big names to achieve star status. A personal account by the late Bill Russell perfectly sums up Mikan’s stature and influence on the game at the time:

My first basketball hero was a guy named George Mikan, who was the first real NBA basketball superstar. I went to see him play and after the game he came out of the locker room and walked up to me and talked to me for 20 minutes. And back when I was in third string college, he was just talking to a young basketball player.

Simply put, Mikan’s status as the league’s first-ever superstar center laid out a blueprint for Russell, who took that blueprint, improved on it, and retired as the biggest winner the game has ever had. never seen.

The domino effect was felt for generations, as Russell was a contemporary of Chamberlain. Next, Chamberlian was replaced by Abdul-Jabbar, who was then followed by O’Neal – three game-changing centers who donned Lakers uniforms.

They don’t become who they are without Mikan’s impact on the game.

Mikan, of course, is the namesake of the Mikan Drill, a drill designed for basketball players – namely big men – to work on both their finishing and their rebounding. Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal, two of the game’s most prolific scorers, both attribute the exercise to their successes as players.

“Of course I knew who George Mikan was,” Abdul-Jabbar said of his upbringing in a 1997 Sports Illustrated interview. “In sixth grade, I was taught the Mikan exercise with the hook, right hand, left hand.”

O’Neal, who is often considered the most dominant player in NBA history, used that same word to describe Mikan, saying “he cared about being dominant, he embraced being dominant. C is why he is the father of domination.

When Mikan died in the 2005 NBA playoffs, it was O’Neal who paid the funeral expenses, saying “without No. 99, there’s no me”. Retiring the jersey is the perfect way to honor the No.99’s legacy.

George Mikan Career Honors, Stats, Highlights

  • 6x All-BAA/NBA
  • 5x BAA/NBA Champion
  • 4x NBA All Stars
  • 3x BAA/NBA scoring champion
  • Rebounding Champion 1952-53
  • 1953 All-Star Game MVP
  • 23.1 points per game
  • 13.4 rebounds per game (rebounds weren’t recorded until Mikan’s third season)
  • 2.8 assists per game
  • 40.4% field goals
  • 78.2% field goals

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