Posts Tagged ‘George Mikan’

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history

Three-peat.

It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.


VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

Happy 97th Birthday, John Kundla!

The “Not One, Not Two, Not Three” Club in Miami isn’t some hot spot of South Beach nightlife. It is, instead, a state of mind, with enough swagger, ego and even arrogance that you might think twice about which side of the velvet rope you prefer to be on.

That notorious boast three years ago was part of the thumping music-and-laser show that served as the first public appearance of Miami’s Big Three – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It rightfully has been mocked and ridiculed ever since – hey, the fellas got a little excited – and remains one of the chief reasons that crew has more critics than fans, maybe several times over.

But the Heat’s second consecutive NBA championships not only edged all that hubris a little closer to the truth, it shifted some number of Heat skeptics or, er, dislikers over to the other side. Including perhaps the oldest and perhaps most sage new member.

John Kundla, the first NBA coach ever to string together three NBA titles, turned 97 Wednesday. He is the oldest living member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is, somehow, both legendary and overlooked, because his success with the Minneapolis Lakers came not just before James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson took the league to new popularity but before Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell even arrived.

Kundla steered the George Mikan-era Lakers to five NBA championships in six seasons from 1949 to 1954. And he told Chris Tomasson of FoxSportsFlorida.com that he hopes Miami matches or tops that achievement:

Kundla next season would be proud to welcome [Erik] Spoelstra into the exclusive club of NBA coaches who have won three titles in a row. He even thinks Spoelstra and his Heat could end up claiming more overall titles than Kundla did with the Lakers.

Kundla won five, tied with [Heat president Pat] Riley for third most in NBA history. [Phil] Jackson, whose three-peats came with Chicago from 1991-93 and 1996-98 and with the Lakers from 2000-02, has claimed 11 and [Boston’s Red] Auerbach nine.

“We won five, but I’m saying that Miami is going to do better than that,” said Kundla, who also won NBA titles in 1949 and 1950. “LeBron has some good years left. They have good players and good coaching and a real good general manager (Riley). It takes a little but of luck. There’s always injuries. But I hope they do it.”

Kundla last coached in the NBA at age 42. He left the Lakers before they left Minneapolis, taking over as head coach at the University of Minnesota before retiring as a coach entirely at age 51.

But he still follows the game and said he watched The Finals with some fellow residents of the Minneapolis nursing home where they live. He planned to celebrate his birthday Wednesday with his five living children.

Kundla spoke with NBA.com for a Q&A when he was a wee lad of 94. You can read that here and Tomasson’s Heat-centric piece here.

One more sneak preview: Kundla, who coached five Hall of Famers on his five NBA championship teams (with one BAA title to start it all in 1948 to start it all), already considers James to be one of the five greatest players in history.

Pilot’s Tale Of Lakers’ Near-Disaster Hits Bookstores

Long before Ray Kinsella assured Shoeless Joe Jackson that, no, this wasn’t heaven, “it’s Iowa,” a plane full of NBA players and staff rightfully could have wondered the same thing about their own field of dreams.

Fifty-three years ago, the Minneapolis Lakers didn’t come back from beyond to play a basketball game in rural Iowa – they almost went in the opposite direction when their team plane experienced mechanical issues while carrying them home from a game that night against the St. Louis Hawks.

That harrowing trip and its impropable stop in a confield in Carroll, Iowa, is the subject of a new book, “The Miracle Landing” (Signalman Publishing, May 2013) written by the co-pilot that night, Harold Gifford.

Gifford, 89, a retired World War II pilot and aviation professional who lives in Woodbury, Minn., has told the story in bits and pieces through the years, most conspicuously three years ago to reporters working up 50th-anniversary accounts of the near-tragedy. But he finally has pulled it together in book form, with the subtitle: “The true story of how the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers almost perished in an Iowa cornfield during a January blizzard.”

Straight to the point, certainly. But it only suggests at the implications of what might have been. Or rather, what might not have been.

The NBA was a more raggedy operation in those days, after all. The Lakers were a proud franchise with five championships in their past, but they had fallen on hard times in the Twin Cities. George Mikan was long gone and, because of difficulty securing a proper place to play, so were many of their fans. By 1959-60, the team was losing twice as many games as it won; even a stellar rookie named Elgin Baylor couldn’t pull Minneapolis closer to St. Louis in the Western Division than 21 games.

Owner Bob Short, who owned the DC-3 plane, was within months of relocating the whole shebang to Los Angeles, where the No. 2 pick in the 1960 draft, Jerry West (selected right after Oscar Robertson), would join Baylor for the start of what has been the franchise’s long, glamorous and successful stay in southern California.

Still, it’s safe to say that if the unthinkable had happened, the NBA might have moved on. It would have been in no hurry to replace a team in the Twin Cities and it might have been years, through expansion or another franchise move, before the league planted a flag in L.A.

Certainly, it wouldn’t have been named the Lakers.

“This incredible story is a turning point of Lakers history and the more the fans know about their team, the more they love us,” Jeanie Buss, executive VP of the Lakers, said for the book’s press release. “Because of this miracle landing, the players and other passengers on this flight would be able to continue their lives with their families and their loved ones for the next half-center.”

That, of course, is the real happy ending. But the NBA by-product was that the Lakers survived, as a group and as a brand, to build on a legacy of championships and remarkable play.

None of it more remarkable, though, than the work of Gifford and fellow pilot Vern Ullman that snowy night. The plane’s electrical system shut down, its radio went dark, the instruments and windows in the cockpit began to ice over. The Lakers players and staff shivered and sweated in the back, simultaneously. The pilots dipped low, seeking visibility, risking the treeline.

Less than a year earlier, rock ‘n’ roll’s Buddy Holly‘s plane had gone done in similar bad weather in Mason City, Iowa. This time, pilot Gifford peered out an open side window and locked onto highway US-71 as a guide but couldn’t find a rural airport. The lights of tiny Carroll began to blink on as residents were awakened by the late-night roar of the plane’s engine.

In the distance, the pilots saw a snow-covered cornfield, unharvested, the stalks still standing upright. If they could only …

Aw, no sense trying to sum it all up here. Especially with the book out and available everywhere, in print and electronic forms, including here and here.

Slater Martin Was A Texas Original




HOUSTON — Here’s what to know about Slater Martin.

When star point guard T.J. Ford led the University of Texas to the 2003 Final Four for the first time since 1947, the surviving members of the old team sent coach Rick Barnes a letter of congratulations. At the end of the letter, Dr. Vilbry White, a retired dentist and a Longhorn teammate of Martin’s added a line at the end:

“Slater still doesn’t think T.J. could drive around him today.”

When told about the postscript, then 77-year-old Martin laughed loudly and said, “Well, I’d like to see him try without palming the way they let these guys do today.”

It goes without saying that Martin, who passed away at 86 on Thursday, came from a much different time, a different era of basketball. But every one of today’s stars from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Kevin Durant would have loved to have had him at their back on the court.

Martin was tough and rugged and feisty and, quite fittingly as a Texan, was a particular burr under the saddle of Celtics star Bob Cousy.

“Cousy never liked to see me coming,” Martin once told me, “because he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. And I told him he wasn’t pulling out any of that fancy hotdog stuff out on the court with me unless he wanted to wind up down on the court.”

Martin won five NBA championships, four with the Minneapolis Lakers and one with the St. Louis Hawks. He was a seven-time All-Star and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

But in Houston, where he led Jefferson Davis High School to state titles in 1942 and 1943 and eventually settled down, Martin was an outgoing restauranteur, a gregarious host and a man who never met anyone who couldn’t become an instant friend.

The first time I met Martin in 1982 — he’d been retired from the game for more than two decades — I was immediately pulled into his world of NBA tales, observations, camaraderie and blunt opinions. He still loved the game, but especially not the liberal interpretation of the palming rule. He marveled and admired the wondrous athleticism of today’s NBA players, but cautioned that too many of the early stars — George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Bob Pettit — were under-appreciated. And still he liked to get in his jabs at his favorite nemesis.

“If you ever see Cousy around at a game these, tell him that I’m in the building,” Martin said, “and watch him flinch.”

That was Slater.

Arnie Risen (1924-2012), Great Early ‘Big’

They called him “Stilts” because Arnie Risen played back in the days when 6-foot-9 was really something. He weighed 210 pounds for much of his career, maybe 220 later, but what he lacked in bulk, Risen made up for in agility.

“He was also a constant thorn in the side of some of the more prominent big men such as George Mikan, Alex Groza and Larry Foust,” is how “The Biographical History of Pro Basketball” described Risen, a 1998 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee who died Saturday in Beachwood, Ohio, at age 87. “Perhaps only Mikan, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley and Alex Groza were more polished at the pivot position during the NBA’s first half dozen seasons.”

Risen, who starred at Ohio State and was a part of NBA championship squads in Rochester (1951) and Boston (1957), was a longtime resident of the Cleveland area. He died from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (more…)

When he’s all business, Bynum works





SAN ANTONIO – George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Andrew Bynum.

Those are the five Lakers who have pulled down 30 rebounds in a single game. Those are also the five reasons that Bynum’s flake-out over the past few weeks has been so frustrating.

For one, the 24-year-old center has the potential to be the driving force behind another deep run for the Lakers in the playoffs this season. For another, he could be the anchor for the next Lakers’ dynasty.

Bynum grabbed 30 boards, which was a career high for him and the best rebounding game in the NBA this season, on Wednesday night in a 98-84 whipping of the Spurs. He didn’t merely dominate the boards, he devoured them. At halftime he had 19 rebounds to just 18 by the entire San Antonio team. By the fourth quarter, the Lakers had built a 26-point lead.

They did it all without Kobe Bryant, who missed his third straight game due to an inflammation in his left shin.

They did it because Metta World Peace turned back the clock to his old Ron Artest days, dialing up 5-for-8 from behind the 3-point line for 26 points, because Pau Gasol went for 21 points and 11 rebounds and Matt Barnes came off the bench for 13 points.

“We always want Kobe on the floor with us, but with or without him, we’re always a tough matchup for a lot of teams because of our size,” said Gasol.

(more…)

Wilt Stamp Takes Lickin’, Keeps Tickin’

***

It probably would be seen as a cheap shot to write something like, “Contrary to NBA Hall of Famer Karl (The Mailman) Malone, the United States Postal Service is failing to deliver …”

Those of us here at the Hideout never would want to (ahem) antagonize any situation by assigning blame for anything. So let’s just say that, like a lot of husbands who wind up sleeping a few nights on their couches, the USPS is about to let an anniversary slip by without acknowledgement.

Less than two months from now, the NBA and hoops enthusiasts around the globe will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most astounding single performance in league history: On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain led the Philadelphia Warriors past the New York Knicks on a neutral court in Hershey, Pa., 169-147. Al Attles and the other Warriors combined to score 69 points. Chamberlain got the other 100.

It is a record that stands to this day – a grand, round number for one of the biggest performers ever in sports (never to have run in the Kentucky Derby, anyway). The Dipper’s Herculean feats and outsized personality seemed ripe for him to be honored by casual fans and the culture at large, and what better way than to put his image on a first-class U.S. postal stamp?

That was the passion that moved Donald Hunt, longtime sportswriter at the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown, to throw his support into a campaign to get the big fella so honored. An online petition sprang up to lobby the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee at the USPS’s own hideout in Washington, D.C. Stories appeared here at NBA.com, as well as in USA Today, the mainstream Philadelphia media and elsewhere.

(more…)