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NBA's First Big Man Dies

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jun 2, 2005 8:49PM

2005_06_sports_george_mikan.jpgBefore there was Wilt Chaimberlain, Bill Russell or Shaquille O'Neal there was George Mikan. The NBA's first dominant center and superstar, Mikan died last night at 80.

Mikan was born and raised in Joliet, IL before enrolling at DePaul. He didn't play high school basketball, but legendary coach Ray Meyer -- then in his first year coaching -- took the 6'10" giant under his wing and taught him the game. He became so dominant at the center position, the NCAA was forced to enact a goaltending rule. During the 1945 season, Mikan was the NIT tournament MVP as DePaul won the title with Mikan scoring 53 points against Rhode Island.

Following his college career played pro ball in two leagues before joining the the Minneapolis Lakers during the innaugural season of the NBA. The league's first superstar, he lead them to five NBA titles in his 7 seasons. After retiring in 1956 due to injuries he went on to later coach the Lakers briefly and served as commissioner of the ABA in 1967, where's he credited with adding the 3-point line and the famous red, white & blue ball.

Mikan may be gone, but his imprint on the game will forever remain. Perhaps no player shaped the NBA the way he did. As Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett said, "Without George Mikan, there would be no up-and-unders, no jump hooks, and there would be no label of the big man."