1954 Lakers

By 1954, the Minneapolis Lakers had won five titles in six years, starting with a National Basketball League title in 1948 and followed by NBA championships in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. Front row, from left: Max Winter, tall men Jim Pollard and George Mikan (holding the trophy together), coach John Kundla, Bob Harrison, Don Carlson, Slater Martin and Buddy Hassett (kneeling). Back row, Sid Hartman, Herman Schaffer, Vern Mikkelsen (just visible behind Schaffer), Bud Grant, Arnie Feerin and Tony Jaros. (Star Tribune / December 6, 2004)

  • Also
  • Lakers History: Glory Days Photos: Lakers History: Glory Days
  • It was time for a show It was time for a show
  • Heartache of a champion Heartache of a champion
  •  
A three-peat obviously is a big deal, but how about a double three-peat?

As dominant as the Lakers have been in winning three consecutive NBA championships, they are only halfway toward matching the achievement of their ancestors from Minneapolis half a century ago.

The Minneapolis Lakers, coached by John Kundla, won three titles in a row, fell short the next season, then won three more NBA titles.

Six championships in seven years--two three-peats!

Those early Lakers did their winning in three leagues, though, and, completing the unlikely picture, did it in the first seven years of their existence.

The Lakers were founded in 1947 as a member of the National Basketball League, the first truly major pro basketball league, and celebrated their birth by winning the championship in the spring of '48. The next season, they jumped to the Basketball Assn. of America, forerunner of the NBA, and won again. The NBA recognizes that as the Lakers' first NBA title.

The season after that, the NBL and BAA were merged into the NBA, and the Lakers won again.

The streak ended in the 1951 NBA playoffs when the Lakers lost to the Rochester Royals, now the Sacramento Kings, in the Western Division finals.

Then there was another three-season run before they lost in 1955 to the Fort Wayne--now Detroit--Pistons, again in the Western Division finals.

After that, age took its toll on the Lakers and as defeats piled up, attendance fell off so sharply that the team was moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

Just as with the champion Lakers of today, the key to the team's success was an overpowering center. The Minneapolis version of " Superman" Shaquille O'Neal was George Mikan. His horn-rimmed glasses gave him a Clark Kent look, but he was a mighty man in his own right.

Mikan, who had played at DePaul University in Chicago, stood 6 feet 10 and weighed 245 pounds. That's commonplace now, but he was basketball's first dominant big man and in 1950 was voted the greatest player of the half-century.

So huge was Mikan in the basketball spectrum that when the Lakers played the Knicks in New York at the height of his career, the marquee outside Madison Square Garden read, "TONIGHT: GEORGE MIKAN VS. KNICKS."

In an era in which a 20-point game was a rarity, Mikan averaged 16.5, 21.3, 28.3, 27.4, 28.4, 23.8, 20.6 and 18.1 over eight seasons from 1946-47 through 1953-54. He retired after that, shortly before his 30th birthday, then came back in 1955-56 for 37 games, averaging 10.5. His career average was 22.6.

Dominant as he was, Mikan was surrounded by talent. Three of his teammates--Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Slater "Dugie" Martin--eventually joined him and Kundla in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Mikan was "the franchise" and when he left, the Lakers of Minneapolis ceased to be a major factor in the NBA.

Mikan, 78, who had a long career as an attorney after retiring from basketball, talked about the old days from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We had one of the best point guards in the game in Dugie Martin," Mikan said. "He fed me for a lot of my points, and he even gave Bob Cousy a lot of trouble. Mikkelsen was our power forward, and he was a great shooter. He scored 18-20 points a game. Pollard was our small forward and one of the finest players in history. They called him 'the Kangaroo Kid.' He could dribble, shoot, anything. He had the whole game."

Among Mikan's other teammates were Herman Schaefer, Arnie Ferrin, Don Carlson, Tony Jaros, Bob Harrison, Pep Saul, Whitey Skoog and a backup named Bud Grant, later to become famous as the coach of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.