Basketball's First Great Big Man: George Mikan

October 2, 2022

“I’ve played pro football, coached pro football, played pro basketball and played a lot of baseball, Said teammate Bud Grant. And "George Mikan was the greatest competitor I’ve ever been around.” Getty

The clarion call of the Los Angeles Lakers enticed basketball's greatest big men, even when they weren’t located in LA. Before Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaq, George Mikan carried the torch, not only for Laker centers but for big men everywhere. As the legendary Celtic Bill Russell told Mikan at the NBA 50th Celebration, ”You were my hero. I studied everything you did.”

The 6’10” 250-pound trailblazer also inspired a litany of rule changes, thanks to his unprecedented dominance. Here’s how George Mikan began basketball’s big man revolution during the game’s formative years.

Infamously, Mikan slept on 8 by 6 foot bed made my inmates at the Illinois State Penitentiary.

No Glasses in Basketball

Most elite basketball talents cruise through developmental years, crushing future accountants, firefighters, and lawyers. George Mikan, on the other hand, failed to make his high school team. The reason? “You just can’t play basketball with glasses on.”

Back then big men were considered necessary inconveniences required for the bohemian task of rebounding. Once they served their purpose, the faster, nimbler, more skillful guards stole the show. As Mikan told the Chicago Tribune, “No matter where a tall guy went in those days, there was always someone to tell him he couldn’t do something.”