GREAT LAKES L.A. FINALLY TO HONOR MINNEAPOLIS PLAYERS, TEAMS.
Another championship banner rises at Staples Center tonight.
Long before Shaq and Kobe or Kareem and Magic, there was another dynasty, basketball's first. It, too, had a dominant center in George Mikan, a flashy guard in Slater Martin and the complementary players to match.
Many will be reunited tonight, before the Lakers play the Minnesota Timberwolves, as the Los Angeles Lakers honor - for the first time - the heritage of their years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Hall of Famers Mikan, Martin, Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen and coach John Kundla, now 85, will be in attendance, along with the widow of Jim Pollard.
``These are neat people and good friends,'' said Mikkelsen, a six-time All-Star. ``I stay in touch with most. We all got together last year at the Target Center (in Minneapolis) when the Timberwolves put up a life-size statue of George. But it's always great to meet the guys and reminisce about old times.''
Martin, just 5-foot-10, is remembered as one of the first outstanding ballhandlers and an excellent playmaker. Lovellette, at 6-9, pioneered the role of the big man as an outside scoring threat. He was the first to shoot jumpers and extended the offensive zone for inside players. Stanford product Pollard, nicknamed the ``Kangaroo Kid'' for his leaping ability, was known for his smooth shooting touch and in 1952 was chosen the NBA's best player, over Mikan.
Two banners for the Minneapolis Lakers, who played there from 1947 to 1959, will go up in Staples Center, one with championship years of 1948-49 in the BAA (a forerunner of the NBA) and 1949-50, 1951-52, 1952-53 and 1953-54 in the NBA.
The other banner will represent the Minneapolis Lakers who are in the Hall of Fame. A video tribute also will be paid to the Minneapolis team, with current and former Lakers greats presenting each player with a commemorative championship ring. Then the 2001-2002 Lakers will play in retro 1951-52 blue uniforms with gold lettering of MPLS across the chest.
``I can't get over how nice it is to be honored like that,'' said Kundla, one of only four coaches (Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson) to win three consecutive NBA titles. ``My thanks to George Mikan, who started all this. It's really a nice honor and my gratitude to the Busses for creating this opportunity.''
Mikan, who lives in Phoenix, is expected to be in attendance despite ailing health. The 6-10 center is now 77 years old and stricken with diabetes. Recently Mikan, who declined an interview request, needed to have three toes amputated and he faces dialysis treatment on his failing kidneys three times a week.
``George Mikan was the first great Lakers big man and his name belongs up there with all the other greats,'' Shaquille O'Neal said. ``When it's all said and done, I just hope to get my number there beside his.''
Playing in an era when it was not uncommon for centers to be as tall as today's guards, Mikan won six NBA scoring titles and retired as the league's all-time leader in scoring. A poll in 1950 named him the best player of the first half of the century.
``He's had a terribly difficult time,'' Mikkelsen said of Mikan. ``I give him all the credit in the world. He's been so excited about the ceremony. He's very upbeat in spite of the fact that he's really facing some serious problems.''
Many have wondered why the Lakers haven't acknowledged their Minneapolis roots much in the past. From the arena to the media guide, mention of Minneapolis is conspicuously absent.
``I think they should have done it a long time ago,'' said Lakers founder and journalist Sid Hartman, who was looking to drum up stories for his newspaper when he organized a drive to bring the team there and remains a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. ``It's the same franchise. They could have taken credit for all those championships.''
The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960. When Jerry Buss purchased the team in 1979, previous owners Bob Short and Jack Kent Cooke, both dead, hadn't paid tribute to the Minneapolis past. Buss said a ceremony has been in the works for years but was put on hold as the Lakers waited through planning stages for a new arena.
``We're pleased now to be able to honor the successes of the Minneapolis Lakers and bring their accomplishments to the attention of our fans through the permanent placement of banners in Staples Center,'' Buss said. ``Perhaps the previous owners of the Lakers were remiss for not having done this at an earlier date. But we are pleased that it is being done now, and will be a constant reminder to all who visit Staples Center.''
Chick Hearn, who began play-by-play duties for the Lakers a year after they moved to Los Angeles, remembers the team didn't have anywhere near the popularity in the early years as it does today.
After arriving from a long road trip, players would go around town in a truck and ask with a megaphone for people to come out and see them play.
``Not one radio station would carry their games,'' Hearn said. ``There wasn't much interest in basketball out here. That was before John Wooden started his string of successes (at UCLA).''
Now the Lakers are beloved in Los Angeles and still carry a fan base in Minneapolis.
For 29 years, the Lakers were the only NBA team to which Minnesota could claim a connection. The Timberwolves were born in 1989. But it has been only recently, as the team has become successful behind Kevin Garnett, that the Timberwolves began to take the place of the Lakers in the hearts of many.
``I'm not as much a Timberwolves fan as a Lakers fan,'' Kundla said. ``I have a lot of respect for the Lakers. Jackson has done a terrific job. And that Kobe Bryant, he does everything. He is unbelievable. The Timberwolves are very popular here in Minnesota, but a lot of people do remember the Minneapolis Lakers.''
SOME LAKERS HISTORY
1-Minneapolis Lakers won titles in 1948-49, 1949-50, 1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54
2-Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles in 1960
3-Center George Mikan won six NBA scoring titles
4-L.A. Lakers to honor Minneapolis Lakers for first time
2 photos, box
(1 -- color) THE FIRST LEGACY
George Mikan, shown in a game in 1953, was a scoring machine for the Minnesota Lakers.
(2 -- color) The 6-foot-10 center George Mikan, 77, the Shaquille O'Neal in the 1950s, will finally be honored tonight at Staples Center, along with former Minnesota players.
Paul Battaglia/Associated Press
SOME LAKERS HISTORY (see text)