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NBA legend Mikan dies

George Mikan acknowledged the crowd in Minneapolis during an April 2001 ceremony. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
George Mikan acknowledged the crowd in Minneapolis during an April 2001 ceremony. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

PHOENIX – George Mikan, professional basketball’s first dominant big man who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships and transformed the game, has died. He was 80.

Mikan died Wednesday at a Scottsdale rehabilitation center following a long fight with diabetes and kidney ailments. His right leg was amputated below the knee in 2000, and he had undergone kidney dialysis treatment three times a week for five years, his son Terry said.

Nearsighted with thick glasses, the 6-foot-10 Mikan was so effective as a center at DePaul that he forced the NCAA to adopt the goaltending rule and later caused the NBA to double the width of the free-throw lane. Slowdown tactics used against him eventually led to the 24-second shot clock.

“George Mikan truly revolutionized the game and was the NBA’s first true superstar,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “He had the ability to be a fierce competitor on the court and a gentle giant off the court. We may never see one man impact the game of basketball as he did, and represent it with such warmth and grace.”

Mikan’s Lakers won five league titles in the first six years of the franchise’s history. A rough player, Mikan led the league in personal fouls three times and had 10 broken bones during his playing career. He averaged 23.1 points per game in seven seasons with Minneapolis before retiring because of injuries in 1956. Mikan was the league’s Most Valuable Player in the 1948-49 season, when he averaged 28.3 points in leading the Lakers to the NBA title.

“He obviously was the first of the real high-profile players,” Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy said. “He gave us recognition and acceptance when we were at the bottom of the totem pole in professional sports.”

A statue of Mikan taking his trademark hook shot was dedicated at the Target Center in Minneapolis in April 2001 during halftime of a Timberwolves-Lakers game.

“When I think about George Mikan, I skip all the Wilt Chamberlains and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and I call him the ‘The Original Big Man,’ ” current Minnesota star Kevin Garnett once said. “Without George Mikan, there would be no up-and-unders, no jump hooks, and there would be no label of the big man.”

Born June 18, 1924, in Joliet, Ill., Mikan didn’t play high school basketball, but when he entered DePaul, first-year coach Ray Meyer worked to transform him, monitoring exercises and drills that led to a devastating hook shot with either hand.

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