The irrepressible George Mikan, professional basketball's first dominant big man who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships, died at a Scottsdale, Arizona rehabilitation center, on Wednesday, June 1, 2005. He was 80.
Mikan had suffered from diabetes and kidney failure and he was recently in the hospital for treatment of a diabetes wound in the his leg (his other legs was amputated several years ago). He also underwent kidney dialysis three days a week. A few days after he was moved from the hospital to the rehabilitation center, he passed away.
Born June 18, 1924 in Joliet, Illinois, Mikan began his life on the hardwood at DePaul in Chicago. His devoted first-year coach, Ray Meyer, helped to mold Mikan into a star player, through various exercises and drills. The hard work eventually paid off and Mikan developed a legendary hook shot, which he was able to pull off with either hand. Six-foot-10, nearsighted with thick glasses, Mikan was so effective as a center at DePaul that he forced the NCAA to adopt the goaltending rule.
As a professional, Mikan dominated from the moment he arrived. While playing with the Minneapolis Lakers, Mikan led his team to an astonishing five league titles in the first six years of the franchise's history. A rough player, Mikan led the league in personal fouls three times and had broke 10 bones during his playing career, yet for seven seasons he averaged 23.1 points per game. He earned the league title of MVP in the 1948-49 season, but retired in 1956 due to various injuries.
"He obviously was the first of the real high-profile players," Boston Celtic great and CMG client Bob Cousy remarked. "He literally carried the league. 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."
Later in his life Mikan's love for basketball is not diminish. He coached the Lakers for a part of the 1957-58 season and was elected commissioner of the American Basketball Association in 1967. It was in this position that he introduced the 3-point line and the distinctive red, white and blue ball.
"We were trying to get the network television contract, and I thought the typical brown ball was very hard to see in a large auditorium," Mikan said. "I decided on a ball with different-colored panels of red, white and blue for three reasons. First, it was patriotic; second, the TV viewability was just fantastic; and third, because of the salability of the ball. The young kids really liked it. In fact, we ran product comparison tests and the youngsters invariably chose our ball over the others."
A statue was erected in honor of the NBA Hall of Famer at the Target Center in Minneapolis. George Mikan was truly one of the legendary greats as he graced the NCAA and NBA hardwood. His legacy and contributions to the great game of basketball will remain in the hearts and minds of individuals all over this great land.
Mikan is survived by his wife of 58 years, Patricia; sons Larry, Terry, Patrick and Michael; daughters Trisha and Maureen, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.