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Old Thu Jun 02, 2005, 03:58pm
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http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/02/sp...-mikan.html?hp

June 2, 2005
George Mikan, Big Man Who Changed Basketball Rules, Dies
By FRANK LITSKY
George Mikan, the first superstar in modern professional basketball and a big player so dominant that college and pro rules were changed to handcuff him, died on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 80.

He died in a rehabilitation center where he was being treated for diabetes and kidney failure, his family told The Associated Press. He had suffered from heart and kidney problems for several years.

At 6 feet 10 inches and 245 pounds, Mikan was never as naturally smooth as such modern basketball icons as Michael Jordan. He grew up self-conscious and self-doubting, but through relentless hard work made himself the paramount inside player from 1946 to 1956 in organized pro basketball's early years. He led his teams to seven league championships in nine years, including five National Basketball Association titles with the Minneapolis Lakers.

His trademark was a deadly sweeping hook shot with either hand. He was the N.B.A.'s scoring leader three times and rebounding leader twice, and finished with 11,764 career points. He averaged 22.6 points a game in an era of less-refined shooting and lower scores.

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, the pre-eminent centers of the decade after Mikan's, were entranced by his accomplishments.

"You were my hero," Russell told him. "I studied everything you did."

Chamberlain said, "He showed a big man was not just a freak," adding, "not just some big guy who could hardly walk and chew gum at the same time."

The Associated Press named Mikan the best basketball player of the first half of the 20th century. He was selected to the Professional Basketball Writers Association's 10-man all-time team, the N.B.A.'s 50th anniversary 50-man all-time team and the National Invitation Tournament's all-time team.

In 1959, he became the first player elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Ed Macauley, a contemporary who lost a tooth while defending Mikan, once said, "His elbows should be in the Hall of Fame."

At least Mikan's elbows were relatively healthy. His career medical report included a broken left leg, right leg, left arch, right foot, nose, right wrist, thumb and three fingers, plus 166 stitches.

Through it all, he prevailed, even when rules were introduced to limit his effectiveness. At DePaul University in Chicago, he recalled, "we would set up a zone defense with four men around the key and I guarded the basket." Then, "when the other team took a shot, I'd just tap it out." To negate that, the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1944 banned goaltending.

In the N.B.A., when his team had the ball, Mikan parked one step from the basket like a monument, and if the ball got in his hands it was a sure field goal. The league countered by widening to 12 feet the 6-foot lane under the basket where an offensive player could stay only three seconds at a time. The next year, wider lane and all, Mikan scored 61 points in one game.

In a 1950 game, the Fort Wayne Pistons decided that the only way they could beat Mikan and the Lakers was to hold on to the ball. They did that for minutes at a time and won, 19-18 - the lowest-scoring game in N.B.A. history. A few seasons later, the N.B.A. introduced the present rule that required a team to shoot within 24 seconds of getting the ball.

George Lawrence Mikan was born on June 18, 1924, in Joliet, Ill. At age 8, he stood 5-9; at 11, 6 feet; at high school graduation, 6-8. He used to stoop to make himself look shorter.

"I became round-shouldered, ungainly and so filled with bitterness that my height nearly wrecked my life," he once said. "Later, I found that a tall man didn't have to accept clumsiness."

The 1975 book "Superstars" told this story: "Even college teammates teased him about his size, especially with one jingle: 'Mikan's girl is 10 feet tall; she sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall.' "

In high school, he wanted to be a priest and for a time studied in a Chicago seminary, leaving no time to play schoolboy basketball. He did play in summer on playgrounds and wanted to go to Notre Dame, but Coach George Keogan rejected him as "hopelessly clumsy."

He found a home at DePaul, where Coach Ray Meyer tried to rectify his clumsiness with a training regimen of three hours a day, five days a week for six weeks. He skipped rope, shadow-boxed and ran. The routine helped, and he became an All-American three years and the college player of the year twice. He graduated in 1946.

His first pro team was the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League. After one season, he moved to the N.B.L.'s Minneapolis Lakers. One season after that, the Lakers and three other N.B.L. teams joined the new Basketball Association of America, which a year later became the N.B.A.

Mikan, earning $12,000 a year, so captured the public's imagination that the N.B.A. often sent him on the road a day early to drum up publicity for his next game. He was still in his prime when he retired at 29 because, he said: "I had a family growing, and I decided I wanted to be with them. I felt it was time to get started with the professional world outside of basketball."

Two seasons later, with the Lakers struggling, he returned, but was only a shadow of himself. Then he retired as a player for good. Two seasons after that, he became the coach of the Lakers, got off to a 9-30 start and quit.

After basketball, he worked in Minneapolis as a corporate and real-estate lawyer. He bought and renovated buildings, owned a travel agency and ran for Congress as a Republican (he barely lost).

From 1967 to 1969, he was the first commissioner of the American Basketball Association. Later, he helped Minneapolis acquire the N.B.A.'s new Minnesota Timberwolves franchise.

He lived in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, Minn., and Scottsdale, Ariz. A brother, Ed, also played basketball, as a center in college at DePaul and in the pros; he died in 1999.

Of all the tributes paid to George Mikan during his career, perhaps the grandest was on the marquee outside the old Madison Square Garden. It read :

WED BASKETBALL

GEO MIKAN

VS. KNICKS



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Old Thu Jun 02, 2005, 04:10pm
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He was well before my time, but I spent many, many hours in my youth practicing the "Mikan drill" on the hoop in our driveway. I developed a pretty effective off-hand and good footwork using it. Simple, but very effective.

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Old Thu Jun 02, 2005, 04:20pm
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I have his autobiography, entitled "Unstoppable". He was.

Many times I have discussed the topic of who was the greatest basketball player of all time. Obviously, it is impossible to compare players of different eras objectively, however there is one method I feel comes close. That's to take the top player of an era and try to measure how much better they were during their playing days than the second best player of that same era. If you use that method, Mikan was the best ever. He was so much better than anyone else that played when he did that it would be like comparing the difference between Michael Jordan in his prime with a backup guard on a .500 ball club.
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