On Day 60 of our 100 Days of Hoops, we remember Minnesota’s finest on the hardwood. Nope, it’s not Kevin Garnett or Randy Moss but what has become the most valued NBA franchise today. They currently reside in Los Angeles and rock purple and gold, still know what team I’m talking about?
The Minneapolis Lakers are the OG Lakers; the pioneers of success in basketball winning six championships in its first seven seasons. It all started with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) where the Lakers won its first championship in 1949 and the last season in which it became the NBA. The Lakers were obviously named after Minnesota’s nickname “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and its first head coach was John Kundla. Kundla was very vital to the Lakers early success, knowing how to deal with expectations and different personalities.
George Mikan became a (Minneapolis) Lakers legend during this time, he was picked up by the Lakers in 1947 after playing a season in the National Basketball League (a league that folded after Mikan’s first season ) for the Chicago American Gears. In the Basketball Association of America (BAA), Mikan led Minneapolis to a championship over the Washington Capitols four games to two. And so the success of the Lakers began.
When the BAA became known as the National Basketball Association, the Lakers had won the championship again in six games over the Syracuse Nationals, then after losing in the playoffs (pretty sure they just took a break) won the NBA’s first three-peat from 1952-1954. George Mikan constantly led the league in scoring (scoring champion 1947-1951) and had the most rebounds in the 1952-53 season and Minneapolis became a basketball hub. And in their final season, despite Mikan’s struggles with injury, the Lakers picked up another gem in Clyde Lovellette, thanks to that tandem they took home its final championship in Minneapolis in 1954.
After the three-peat, George Mikan retired (he did have a short stint back in 1956) and the Minneapolis Lakers were never the same. Mikan did coach the team for the 1957-58 season but resigned after the season. They did nab the Elgin Baylor as the top pick in the 1958 NBA Draft and in 1959 were swept by the Boston Celtics in the Finals (Boston’s first of eight consecutive titles). In 1959-1960, the Lakers finished 25-50 despite surviving a plane crash in early January. Snow storms forced a pilot to go 150 miles off course and the team landed in a corn field.
Elgin Baylor kept scoring for the Lakers despite the team’s struggles. Somehow, the Lakers made the playoffs, upsetting the Detroit Pistons in round one but blowing a 3-2 series lead over the St. Louis Hawks in round two. After the playoff run, Lakers owner Bob Short figured Los Angeles is destined for a basketball team and so the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960. They moved partly because attendance wasn’t as good with Elgin Baylor as the star and George Mikan wasn’t and Bob Short saw the potential of a basketball franchise in Los Angeles. As we know, this became the most popular NBA franchise of all-time.
But let it be remembered that the Minneapolis Lakers are the NBA’s first dynasty. Minnesota has five championships, Los Angeles has eleven. So if you talk to a Lakers fan and they brag about sixteen championships, remind them that the Lakers resided in Minneapolis and won a good chunk of titles there, in fact, it was a whole dynasty. The NBA would not return to Minnesota until the Timberwolves expanded in 1989.
When the Lakers moved to Los Angeles a brand new era began and with the second pick of the 1960 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select…Jerry West.