HE WORE GLASSES: George Mikan, The First Dominant Big Man

Photo: The Sporting News Archives

At 6’10’’ George Mikan was the first really dominant big man in professional basketball and the game’s first true star. He started wearing glasses when he was 12 with many telling him “that anyone who wore glasses could never be a great athlete”.

Like legendary Michael Jordan, George Mikan, of Croatian heritage, got cut from the high school varsity team as a freshman at Joliet Catholic HS. He was one of 14 players on the team before the first game of the season. Unfortunately, since there were only 12 uniforms, just one roster spot remained for the last three players.

Reverend Gilbert Burns noticed that Mikan was squinting. George told the coach he was not wearing his glasses. “You just can’t play basketball with glasses on, son,” Burns said. “You better turn in your uniform.”

During his college days at DePaul, many said that “he would trip over the foul line” and then often laughed. Proving them all wrong, Mikan revolutionized the game by swatting so many shots that in 1944 the NCAA introduced a new rule that prohibited shot goaltending.

George Mikan was a three-time All-American (in 1944, 1945 and 1946) and led the nation in scoring in 1945 and 1946. He scored 1,870 points at DePaul, and once tallied 53 points against Rhode Island Stat, in a game in which he single-handedly outscored the entire opponent team.

Voted the greatest player in the first half of the 20th century by Associated Press he enjoyed an extraordinary professional career. He won four NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers (1950, 1952, 1953, 1954) and was the cornerstone of the franchise.

Leading the NBA in scoring six consecutive times (from 1947-52), “Mr. Basketball” played in the first four NBA All-Star Games (MVP 1953). He was the first commissioner of the newly formed ABA (American Basketball Association). George Mikan died on June 1st, 2005.

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