June 7, 2005 by

George Mikan


Categories: Law, Sports

gmikan.jpgGeorge Lawrence Mikan Jr., a star center who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died on June 1. Cause of death was not released. He was 80.
Born in Joliet, Ill., Mikan attended Joliet Catholic High School and Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, where he considered entering the priesthood. He failed to make the basketball team at Notre Dame and decided to attend DePaul University instead. There he met Ray Meyer, who was in his first year as DePaul’s coach. Meyer worked with Mikan one-on-one for six weeks, making him shoot left-handed and right-handed, a procedure now known as the “George Mikan drill.”
From 1941 to 1945, Mikan became a three-time All-American. Twice named college player of the year, he scored 1,870 points during his four years at DePaul, led the Blue Demons to a National Invitation Tournament title and inspired the passage of the NCAA’s rule prohibiting goaltending. Mikan played one season with the Chicago American Gears of the NBL, a predecessor of the NBA, before moving to the new Lakers franchise in Minneapolis.
At 6 feet 10 inches and 245 pounds, Mikan was considered a big man physically and metaphorically in the NBA’s early years. Although the polite, bespectacled center was known as the “gentle giant,” he attained superstar status on the court for his sweeping hook shot and defensive prowess. In response to Mikan’s size and skill, the NBA doubled the width of the free-throw lane.
During the NBA’s 1948-49 season, Mikan averaged 28.3 points per game and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He averaged 23.1 points per game over the course of his career before retiring from injuries in 1956. Mikan coached the Lakers for part of the 1957-58 season, worked in corporate and real estate law, then served as the first commissioner of the American Basketball Association.
Voted the “Greatest Player in the First Half-Century” by The Associated Press, Mikan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959. Four years ago, a 9-foot bronze statue of Mikan making his trademark hook shot was erected at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Despite all the accolades, Mikan had the unfortunate luck to play professional basketball before multimillion-dollar contracts and lucrative commercial endorsements were the norm. Like other athletes who played in the NBA prior to 1965, Mikan never made more than $35,000 a year and drew only a tiny pension. In later years, he spoke out about this issue in hopes that the league and the players’ association would improve pension benefits for “pre-65ers.”
Mikan suffered from diabetes and kidney failure. His right leg was amputated below the knee in 2000, and he endured a diabetes-related wound in his left leg. To pay his medical bills, he sold off most of his memorabilia. Upon learning the Mikan family was struggling financially, Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal agreed to pay for Mikan’s funeral costs.
Career Statistics From Basketball-Reference.com
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2 Responses to George Mikan

  1. Sandy Cecere

    We have fond memories of George Mikan in my family. He was a towering man with a big heart, and a faith in God that carried him through many rough times. He needed a special car so that he could fit into it. When he came to visit at our house he had to duck to get into our house, and into our car, and garage. My father, a dear friend of George was 5’8 inches tall, and George was 6’7″ tall. When the two stood next to one another, they were the true mutt and Jeff. George was a man of great faith, and I know that Sam and George are in heaven practicing law together, and talking about their love of sports. I will always remember George Mikans smile and what a great friend he was to my dad. When my dad was dying, Dad didn’t want to see anyone, but George didn’t care, he came into the hospital to see his friend Sam, and I remember my father’s eyes lighting up, and that my Dad felt good enough that day to have a long conversation with his friend George. In my family we were taught to always call our elders, Mr and Mrs., so I did. When I was in my 30’s George told me to call him George. I told him I just didn’t think I could do that. He laughed and made me!! His nickname for me was “the favorite one”. I will always remember him.

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