George Mikan, the original dominating big man of the NBA, who led the then-Minneapolis Lakers to five titles in six years, died today just shy of his 81st birthday.
A superstar decades before the term existed, Mikan was the first big man to dominate the sport. No one before had seen a 6-foot-10 player with his agility, competitiveness and skill.
When the Minneapolis Lakers came to New York in December, 1949, the marquee at Madison Square Garden read "Geo. Mikan vs. the Knicks."
"He literally carried the league," Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy said. "He gave us recognition and acceptance when we were at the bottom of the totem pole in professional sports. He transcended the game. People came to see him as much as they came to see the game."
College basketball instituted the goaltending rule because of him, and the NBA doubled the width of the free throw lane. Slowdown tactics used against him -- his 1950 Lakers lost 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Pistons in the lowest-scoring game in NBA history -- eventually led to the 24-second shot clock.
A statue of Mikan taking his trademark hook shot was dedicated at the Target Center in Minneapolis in April 2001 at halftime of a Timberwolves-Lakers game.
"We were in hiatus a long time, the old-timers," Mikan said at the time. "They forgot about us. They don't go back to our NBA days."
Timberwolves star and 2004 MVP Kevin Garnett knew of Mikan, though.
"When I think about George Mikan, I skip all the Wilt Chamberlains and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and I call him the 'The Original Big Man,"' Garnett said. "Without George Mikan, there would be no up-and-unders, no jump hooks, and there would be no label of the big man."
Mikan coached the Lakers for part of the 1957-58 season, and was commissioner of the American Basketball Association in 1967, introducing the 3-point line and the distinctive red, white and blue ball.