"They had a rookie from Tennessee named Lefty Walther," longtime big man's guru Pete Newell said. "The kid was a real good player. They're playing a game and Mikan is in the post and the guy drives right by Mikan, goes in for a layup. Mikan's got his hand up for the ball, he's the top dog. He gets mad and yells at him.
"The next time the kid gets the ball, he drives and his man and Mikan's man go up to block the shot. The third time he drives, his guy, Mikan's man and Mikan all go after the shot.
"Mikan's thing was, 'They're paying you $5,000 to play out there and they're paying me whatever to play in there, so when I ask for the ball, darn it, give it to me!'
"The kid was gone in a few games."
In the ultimate compliment accorded to the greatest revolutionaries, Mikan and Wilt, the rules were changed to deal with them. The NBA widened its lane for the first time for Mikan. The NCAA rewrote its defensive goaltending rules, fearing otherwise Mikan would just bat everything away.
Now it seems like a long, long time ago in a Midwestern town far, far away, but without Mikan, Pollard, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen and Coach John Kundla--all Laker Hall of Famers whose names will be raised on a banner in Staples Center tonight--without the generation that rode trains, had jobs in the off-season and played for peanuts because they loved the game so much, there'd be no modern NBA with its jaded, $100-million pop icons.
Appropriately, today's Lakers are taking a moment tonight to honor so distinguished a heritage and the men who established it. Not that sentiment and appreciation entirely explain why they finally got around to it.
Coincidentally or not, the same retro "MPLS" jerseys the Lakers wear tonight are available for $69.99, at the NBA Store on NBA.com, the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York, NIKETOWN, Staples Center, Champs, East Bay and Fanzz, emblazoned with Shaq's No. 34 or Kobe Bryant's No. 8 (but not Mikan's No. 99).
A banner commemorating the five Minneapolis titles will be raised too, which will be great for the Lakers. As far as banners go, they will have just closed the Celtics' lead to 16-13.
Whatever the motivation, it's about time. Thanks for the memories and for the game.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
*--* George Mikan Profile
Born: June 18, 1924 in Joliet, Ill. Height: 6-10. Weight: 245.
*--* NBA HIGHLIGHTS *--*
* All-NBA first team (1950-54)
* Four-time all-star (1951-54)
* All-Star game MVP, after scoring 22 points (1953)
* Five championships with Minneapolis Lakers (1949-50, 1952-54)
* Led league in scoring three times (1949-51; career-high 28.4 ppg in 1951)
* Led league in rebounding in 1953 (1,007, 14.4 rpg).
* Annually among league leaders in free-throw attempts (4,597 for a career)
* Voted game's greatest player for first half-century by Associated Press
* Elected to Hall of Fame in 1959
* NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team (1970)
* NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team (1980)
* NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team (1996)
*--* CAREER STATISTICS Games FG% FT% RPG APG Points PPG 520 404 777 13.4 2.1 11,764 22.6 *--*