Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Top 10 NBA Players: #9, George Mikan

Rarely mentioned in many "Top 10's" of greatest players, George Mikan deserves an entry onto this list for his impact on the sport of basketball in general.

Known as "Mr. Basketball", Mikan revolutionized the sport in the late 1940s and 50s. Before he played, the best players were short guards who could shoot well. When the 6ft 11in Mikan came along his sheer size let him take over games single-handed.

When at DePaul College, George was an awkward, shy and clumsy person. Coaches of the time believed tall players did not have the strength to become great players and Mikan did not do much to change that view at first, playing in thick, round spectacles. His college coach saw potential, and worked with him to turn him into the unstoppable force that went on to win multiple championships at professional level. George developed the hook-shot, a nearly impossible to defend shot that was a result of the now commonly-used Mikan Drill. On the defensive end, Mikan would stand under the basket and jump up to swat any ball out of the hoop. This led to the invention of the "goaltending" rule that states that a ball directly above the basket cannot be touched by any player. This was not illegal in Mikan's era because it was thought to be impossible for anyone to reach that high!

George signed for the Chicago American Gears for the 1946-47 National Basketball League season. The NBL was one of the early predecessors of the modern NBA. Mikan led the team to win the World Basketball Tournament, where he scored a total of 100 points over 5 games. The team owner withdrew the Gears to compete in a new 24-team league, the Pro Basketball League of America, which collapsed after jsut one month. Due to the collapse, all the players from these PBLA teams were given to the 11 NBL teams remaining. George Mikan ended up on the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers)

Mikan playing for the Lakers

In 1949-50, the NBA began it's first season. Mikan dominated the league, averaging 27.4 points per game. Only one other player broke the 20-point barrier (22.5) that year. The team finished the first NBA season with a 51-17 record. The Lakers blitzed the Playoffs to reach the first Finals, against the Syracuse Nationals. The Lakers won the first game on their own court, before the next four games were split 2-2. The Lakers became the first-ever NBA Champions when they won Game 6 110-95. George Mikan averaged some 31 points per Playoff game.

In the next season, Mikan continued his domination on offense, averaging 28 points a game. This season would contain the game that led to the creation of the 24-second Shot Clock. Mikan's Lakers were losing 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Pistons early in the game. The Pistons got the ball, and never lost it again. Never trying to shoot. This led to the NBA introducing the shot-clock to force teams to attack. Mikan totalled 83% of his team's points, scoring 15 of 18. He fractured his leg before the '50 Playoffs, leading to the Lakers being eliminated a round before the Finals, this would prove to be the only blip as the Lakers established the first NBA dynasty.

In 51-52, the NBA introduced another new rule to attempt to stop Mikan's dominance. They made the painted "lane" under the basket 12 feet wide rather than 6. This doubled the distance George had to work from. The tall star took it in his stride, still averaging 23 points per game (although down from the previous year). Mikan led the team to another title, earning $7,500 to be split between the whole team.

The Lakers won 2 more titles to be the first team to win three-in-a-row. Mikan became the first superstar of basketball, opening the gates for giants such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Without him, the league would not have the 24-second clock, goal-tending rules or the lane size (Known as "The Mikan Rule") it has today. He truly changed the sport, making it popular across America. After his death,

O'Neal said "Without #99 (Mikan's number), there is no me."

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