No. 99: George Mikan

Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal has offered to pay for the funeral services for George Mikan, who died Wednesday. I was very pleased by this.

George who?

George Mikan was, by all accounts, the first truly dominant basketball player. Because of him, they widened the paint (the area under the basket), so he couldn’t just stop everything. The goaltending rule (blocking a shot after it begins its downward arc) was created because of the 6’10” Mikan, as was the institution of the shot clock.

Mikan was named the best player in the first half-century, and one of the 50 greatest of all time, according to people who select these things.

Mikan was the first great Laker center, back when the team was in Minneapolis. (The Lakers were named for Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. The “Los Angeles” Lakers makes as much sense as the Utah Jazz, who USED to play in New Orleans.) Shaq was the last great Laker center, after the late Wilt Chamberlain, who used to clog the lane like Mikan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose skyhook was similar to Mikan’s hook shot.

I liked that Shaq is offering to care for the Mikan family because it shows his sense of history and because it shows that he recognizes the disparity of the kind of money players were making then as opposed to the current pay scale. The Mikan family was struggling financially with George’s illness and a pension plan for old-timers a pittance compared to what later players would receive.

As Shaq said, “Without No. 99 (Mikan’s number), there is no me.”

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