History of The Los Angeles Lakers - 1946-58: Minneapolis and George Mikan

1946-58: Minneapolis and George Mikan

The Lakers' franchise began in 1947 when Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen of Minnesota purchased the recently disbanded Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League (NBL) for $15,000 from Gems owner Maury Winston. Inspired by Minnesota's nickname, "Land of 10,000 Lakes", the team christened themselves the Lakers. They hired John Kundla as their first head coach.

Berger and Chalfen relocated the team to Minneapolis, with home games being played at both the Minneapolis Auditorium and the Minneapolis Armory. The "team" that Berger and Chalfen had actually purchased consisted only of equipment; since the team had appeared to be on the verge of folding, all of its players had already been assigned to other NBL teams. The franchise was re-christened the "Lakers" in reference to Minnesota's nickname, "The Land of 10,000 Lakes". Berger and Chalfen brought in Max Winter, later to become a founder and owner of the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings, to become the Lakers' new general manager. Winter also took an ownership stake in the team, which he would maintain until he left the Lakers in 1955.

As the Gems had recorded by far the worst record in the NBL, the Lakers had the first pick in the 1947 Professional Basketball League of America dispersal draft, which they used to select George Mikan, later to become one of the greatest centers of his time. With Mikan, new coach John Kundla and an infusion of former University of Minnesota players to replace those lost prior to the relocation, the Lakers won the NBL championship in their first season.

The next year, the Lakers switched to the 12-team Basketball Association of America (BAA) and proceeded to win its championship in that first season. As the BAA is considered the direct lineal ancestor of today's NBA, this 1949 BAA championship is recognized today as an official NBA championship for the Lakers, whereas their 1948 NBL championship is not. This technically makes the Lakers the most successful expansion team in NBA history, since the NBA does not recognize NBL records and considers the Lakers to be a 1948 expansion team.

The next year saw the merging of the BAA and NBL to form the NBA, and the Lakers won their third consecutive championship on the backs of Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and future National Football League coach Bud Grant. The Lakers' streak of championships came to an end in 1951, when they lost to the Rochester Royals in the NBA Western Division Finals. Nevertheless, they rebounded from that defeat to capture the title for the next three consecutive years, thus becoming the NBA's first "dynasty", having won five NBA/BAA championships in six years (and six championships in seven years, if their 1948 NBL title is included). In addition to Mikan and Mikkelsen, the Lakers teams of these years also featured future Hall of Famers in Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, and Clyde Lovellette. During this time, the team also participated in the lowest-scoring game in NBA history; on November 22, 1950, the Lakers fell to the Fort Wayne Pistons by a score of 19-18. This contest later proved to be a factor in the league's introduction of the shot clock.

Injuries forced Mikan to retire after the 1954 season, and the Lakers missed him dearly. Not only that, but the NBA introduced rule changes (the 24-second shot clock and a limit of six personal fouls per team per quarter), which forced them to play an entirely new style of basketball to which they were unaccustomed. Lovellette led the team in scoring, but the Lakers fared so poorly in the 1955 season that Mikan was persuaded to come out of retirement for the 1956 season. His play was not up to his former standards, however, and halfway through the season, he retired again, this time for good. The 1956 Lakers would go on to make the playoffs, only to lose to the St. Louis Hawks.

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