George Lawrence Mikan, Jr. died on June 1, 2005 at the age of 80, he was an American professional basketball player for the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League (NBL) and the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBL, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Born in Joliet, Illinois, as an American of Croatian descent on June 18, 1924, as a boy, he shattered one of his knees so badly that he was kept in bed for a year and a half.
In 1938, Mikan attended the Chicago Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary and originally wanted to be a priest, but then moved back home to finish at Joliet Catholic.
Mikan had a successful player career, winning seven NBL, BAA, and NBA championships, an All-Star MVP trophy, and three scoring titles.
He was a member of the first four NBA All-Star games, and the first six All-BAA and All-NBA Teams. Mikan was so dominant that he caused several rule changes in the NBA, among them the goaltending rule, widening the foul lane—known as the “Mikan Rule”—and introducing the shot clock.
From his first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college games for DePaul on, Mikan dominated his peers.
He intimidated opponents with his size and strength, was unstoppable on offense with his hook shot, and soon established a reputation as one of the hardest and grittiest players in the league, often playing through injury and punishing opposing centers with hard fouls.
In addition, Mikan also surprised the basketball world by his unique ability of goaltending, i.e. jumping so high that he swatted the ball away before it could pass the hoop.
In today’s basketball, touching the ball after it reaches its apogee is a violation, but in Mikan’s time it was legal because people thought it was impossible anyone could reach that high.
“We would set up a zone defense that had four men around the key and I guarded the basket,” Mikan later recalled his DePaul days. “When the other team took a shot, I’d just go up and tap it out.”
During the 1950-51 NBA season Mikan was once again the leading scorer, with 28.4 ppg, but the Lakers failed to earn their fourth title when the Rochester Roy upended them in the semifinals of postseason play.
Mikan was slowed down during the series by a fractured leg. The following year the Lakers managed to regain the NBA title, but Mikan finished second in scoring with 23.8 ppg, behind Philadelphia’s Paul Arizin.
The Lakers remained the dominant force in the NBA for the next two years, winning championships again in 1953 and 1954, the team’s second three-peat. In his last two full seasons of play, Mikan averaged 20.6 and 18.1 ppg, respectively.
Mikan is considered one of the most influential basketball players in the history of the NBA. Known as “Mr. Basketball,” Mikan’s dominance on the floor led to the rule change that widened the three-second lane from six to twelve feet and goaltending rules were revised.
Mikan is also credited with the institution of the twenty-four-second shot clock, which was eventually put in place after the Fort Wayne Pistons (now the DetroitPistons) stalled an entire game against the Lakers in 1950 to remove Mikan’s scoring threat.
Although he still managed to put in fifteen points, the Lakers lost the game 19-18, the lowest score in NBA history.