Monday, 24 Jun 2024

Legends Profile: George Mikan

The game of basketball has seen its fair share of iconic figures throughout its history, from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the aqueducts of ancient Rome. And while those legacies still stand, there is one that has left an indelible mark on the sport itself – George Mikan and his famous Mikan Drill.

Step into any gym in the world, and chances are you’ll witness a coach running a practice that includes the Mikan Drill. It’s a simple yet powerful exercise that hones a player’s hand-eye coordination and builds muscle memory. Standing under the basket, the player shoots the ball off the backboard with their right hand, catches it, and repeats the same shot with their left hand, alternating back and forth. The repetitive motion ingrains precision and accuracy, akin to the inner workings of a Swiss watch.

It was through this practice drill and his unique skill set that George Mikan revolutionized the game of basketball. Standing at an imposing 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Mikan reshaped the sport from one that favored smaller, quicker players to one that embraced the dominance of giants on the court. Leading the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships in six seasons from 1949 to 1954, he became the NBA’s first true superstar. His impact was so profound that a marquee at Madison Square Garden once simply read, “Geo Mikan vs. Knicks,” drawing crowds eager to witness the legend in action.

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But George Mikan’s path to greatness wasn’t without its challenges. In his early years, he was cut from the freshman team at Joliet Catholic High School, with his height and glasses working against him. However, with the guidance of DePaul’s Ray Meyer, Mikan found his footing and began to hone his skills. Meyer pushed him to improve his footwork and agility, even encouraging him to dance with shorter girls to enhance his coordination. Mikan’s dedication paid off, and he eventually led DePaul to the National Invitational Tournament championship in 1945.

Mikan’s professional career took off when he joined the Chicago American Gears in the National Basketball League (NBL), the precursor to the NBA. He won his first pro title in 1947 and, through a twist of fate, ended up with the Lakers after the Gears folded. The Lakers dynasty was born, and Mikan’s legacy as a dominant big man began to take shape. His influence paved the way for future legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal, who followed in his footsteps.

On and off the court, George Mikan left an indelible mark on the sport. With his trademark hook shot, he pushed the boundaries of what was possible and led the league in scoring six years in a row. His dominance prompted changes in the game, such as widening the lane and implementing the shot clock. Mikan’s impact was not confined to the court; he became a sports celebrity, gracing magazine covers and endorsing various products. His influence extended beyond basketball, capturing the imagination of fans everywhere.

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George Mikan’s extraordinary journey came to an end on June 1, 2005, at the age of 80. His contributions to the sport will forever be remembered, and his legacy as a pioneer in the game will continue to inspire generations of players to come.