The Los Angeles Lakers have been the team of some of the greatest stars the NBA has ever seen. These include such legends as Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain. The team has honored 11 of its greatest all-time players by permanently retiring their jersey numbers — one of the highest honors in the sport.
Yet this honor still has not been bestowed on one of the franchise’s greatest players, George Mikan. This oversight has a lot to do with the fact that Mikan played for the Lakers prior to their move to Los Angeles, when the team was still located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This article outlines four key things to know about this legendary player and why he deserves the honor of having his number retired by the Lakers.
George Mikan set the mold for dominant big men
From Wilt, to Kareem, to Shaq, the Lakers have had their share of centers who could take over whole games, and even whole seasons. Yet none of those players could have enjoyed the same degree of success if it weren’t for the precedent set by Mikan. In fact, when Mikan died in 2005, Shaq famously said, “Without number 99 [Mikan], there is no me.” He also paid for the funeral.
Mikan redefined the role that a center could play, turning himself into a nearly unstoppable offensive force. He was the National Basketball League’s scoring champion for six straight years. By unlocking the paint, and making big men viable scoring threats, Mikan effectively set the course of professional basketball for many decades to come.
Turing The Lakers into perennial competitors
Mikan’s contributions to the game extended beyond his personal accomplishments, or even the way he revolutionized his position. Mikan also led the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships in the span of six years. Those five championships put him right there alongside Magic and Kobe when it comes to all-time Lakers winners.
Mikan didn’t just bring relevance to the Lakers franchise. He also brought relevance to the entire game of basketball at a time when its cultural impact was far smaller than it is today. He brought credibility and popularity to the league.
George Mikan has received many other honors
Mikan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural 1959 class, just three years after ending his career. Yet the honors he received extended well beyond that date. In 1996, the Associated Press named Mikan one of the 50 greatest players of all time.
The Associated Press went even further, declaring Mikan to have been the single greatest player of the first half of the century. In 2001, a statue of Mikan was erected at the entrance of the Target Center, where the Minneapolis Timberwolves play.
The Lakers would benefit from embracing him
With one of the most motivated fan bases in the league and an extensive championship pedigree, the Lakers are secure in their identity as a Los Angeles team.
In fact, they are so secure that they have even suited up in throwback Minneapolis jerseys in recent seasons. Those jerseys honored the legacy of success that the Lakers enjoyed in Minnesota between 1947 and 1960.
Many fans feel that the Lakers should go the next step and honor Mikan by retiring his jersey. From a legacy standpoint, this move would seem like a win-win. On the one hand, it would solidify Mikan’s place as one of basketball’s foundational superstars. On the other hand, it would allow the Lakers to officially embrace Mikan as yet another link in their storied history of basketball greatness.