George Mikan showcases his size in Alumni Hall for the DePaul Blue Demons
As hard as it may be to believe, there was once an era when basketball was a little man’s sport. Prior to the 1940s, basketball was better-suited for smaller and quicker players with better coordination than your typical big man due to the necessity of superior quickness and coordination. At 6-foot-10, Mikan had the coordination and athleticism as a smaller player but the size and athleticism to literally change the game. Mikan’s dominance in the low post resulted in several rule changes including the widening of the lane from six to 12 feet and goaltending, a skill Mikan had perfected in an era when few players had the size or ability to play above the rim.
Mikan’s transformation from mortal man to basketball titan began in 1941 when he first entered DePaul University to shake hands with their basketball coach, Ray Meyer. One summer, Meyer challenged Mikan to shoot 1 thousand hook shots a day, 500 with each hand. Mikan already had dominance in his right, developing the ability to score with both hands soon made him virtually unstoppable. Meyer and Mikan led the DePaul Blue Demons to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament in the 1942-43 season to launch his revolutionary career as the game’s first-ever dominant big. By the time Mikan left the Blue Demons, he was three-time All-American and well on his way to becoming the most dominant force the game had ever seen to that point.
As a professional, Mikan starred for the dynastic Minneapolis Lakers, winning five titles in six years ranging from the 1948-49 season to the 1953-54 season. Over his eight-year career, Mikan averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds per game, to rule the basketball universe. Mikan’s talent and size alone were not all that made him special, however. Mikan was quite simply one of the toughest S.O.B.s ever to lace up a pair of high-tops, missing just two games, due to a viral infection, throughout his career despite sustaining multiple broken bones, fractured elbows, fingers, and arms to go along with 166 stitches.
Mikan changed the game forever and laid the foundation for the NBA’s dominant centers to come. Not only was he the league’s first dominant center but as the first dominant center for the Lakers, a franchise that has since heralded all-time greats, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Shaquille Oneal.