A Banner Night for All the Lakers


At 8:51 Thursday night, a separation that stretched across half a continent, four decades and eight championships finally ended.

Surrounded by family, friends and fans, the Lakers--the original Lakers, the Minneapolis Lakers--took their place on the Staples Center wall, their accomplishments trumpeted alongside those of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Owner Jerry Buss, taking a step avoided by previous owners Bob Short and Jack Kent Cooke, had two banners unveiled at halftime, one for the five championships won by the Lakers over a six-season span from the 1948-49 season to 1953-54. The other banner honors the five Hall of Famers who played on those teams--George Mikan, Slater Martin, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Clyde Lovellette--and their Hall of Fame coach, John Kundla.

The five living honorees were all on hand. Pollard, who died in 1993, was represented by his widow, Arlee.

"It's about time," said Magic Johnson, who took part in the ceremony. "I wanted to thank them for what they started. We are all together now. We are all Lakers. It's long overdue."

No argument from Buss.

"This puts it all together," he said. "I like the completeness of it all. It should have been done before, but I didn't recognize the necessity. Now I really feel the continuity of the organization."

Mikkelsen, 73, was shaking his head Thursday at his reaction when he first heard the Lakers were moving west.

"I didn't think they would get to Sioux Falls, much less L.A.," Mikkelsen said. "That's why I decided not to come here."

Mikkelsen called Thursday's festivities " a total treasure for us and the greatest time for me."

Kundla, 85, admitted he didn't even want to be a part of the old Lakers at first.

"They couldn't get a coach," he said. "I turned them down three times. I didn't think pro ball would make it in Minneapolis because of the University of Minnesota."

And what changed his mind?

"They doubled my salary," he said.

Kundla had been making $3,000 a year coaching at the collegiate level at St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The Lakers gave him a three-year deal worth $18,000.

The salary of Mikan, the game's first superstar, peaked at double what his coach was making, $12,000 per year.

In a ceremony orchestrated by team officials Jeanie Buss and Linda Rambis, each of the honorees received a championship ring--a nonexistent item in their era--presented by a latter-day counterpart. Kundla received his ring from Bill Sharman, Pollard's widow from Mitch Kupchak, Martin from Jerry West, Mikkelsen from James Worthy, Lovellette from Johnson and Mikan from Elgin Baylor.

"At the end of the day," Johnson said, "in terms of money, they did not have a lot to show for it. We should be taking care of them, honoring them. They paved the way for all of us who followed.

"This is one of the greatest days in Laker history. We say the Lakers are family. Now we are showing it."

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