In the long line of Lakers stars, this man was the very first. Hailing from Oakland and attending Stanford University, Jim Pollard was the exotic West Coast import designed to be the franchise player of the Minneapolis Lakers. The franchise had just been formed from the remains of the defunct Detroit Gems in 1947.
It was hard to imagine a player any better than Pollard would become available for the Lakers. He was 6’4″ tall and could jump out the gym. During warm ups and practices he would entertain fans with his exhilarating dunks, something few players then could do. The Kangaroo Kid’s bounce was augmented by his zipping nature. His fleet feet carried him around forwards and centers who were simply too slow to keep up with his speed. The Lakers were thrilled to get their hands on a bona fide superstar.
And then George Mikan fell into their laps after the Chicago Gears disbanded.
Pollard was definitely a superstar in his era, but Mikan was the superstar. The two men didn’t immediately mesh. Mikan was definitely faster than the average center, but he was still too slow for Pollard’s liking when it came time to set up the offense. And when the offense was set, Mikan’s big body closed off driving lanes for Pollard. Even worse Mikan was still in the habit of dominating the ball too much on offense.
Eventually Lakers coach John Kundla figured out the impasse. Pollard and Mikan would engage in a rudimentary form of the pick and roll. In hindsight this sounds casually, and painfully, obvious that this was the solution all along. But in 1947, this play wasn’t used particularly often and certainly not with this caliber of player. Pollard would sweep across with his dribble as Mikan set bone-chilling picks. If the path to the basket was available Pollard swooped in for the bucket. If it closed, he would swing it back to Mikan who now had a distinct advantage on Pollard’s smaller man.
The Lakers rode the two stars to a title in the NBL in 1948. Another title followed suit in 1949 in the BAA. A third-straight title came their way in 1950 in the NBA. A second three-peat was accomplished in 1952, 1953, and 1954. The Lakers toughest opponent, though, was always their division rivals, the Rochester Royals. They ceaselessly waged war on the court. Pollard was there all the while and had exceptional moments like his last-second tip-in of a missed George Mikan hook shot in Game 4 of their 1952 series. The clutch tip-in not only won the game, 82-80, but it closed out the series. In the very next contest, Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the New York Knicks, Pollard delivered a scintillating 34 points in an 83 – 79 overtime victory for Minneapolis.
When the Lakers needed him, Pollard usually delivered moments like those. In his 8-year career only twice did he not end the season as a champion. He played on the NBA’s first great frontcourt with Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen. He was the stylistic antecedent to so many of the athletic small forwards we’ve come to enjoy from Elgin Baylor to LeBron James.
He may never have been The Man on the Lakers, but Pollard’s career unfolded quite nicely.
Years Played: 1947 – 1955
All-NBL 1st Team (1948)
All-BAA 1st Team (1949)
4x Champion (1950, 1952-’54)
All-NBA 1st Team (1950)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1952, 1954)
4x All-Star (1951-’52, 1954-’55)
NBL - 59 Games
12.9 PPG, 67.6% FT
BAA - 53 Games
14.8 PPG, 2.7 APG, 39.6% FG, 68.7% FT
NBA - 385 Games
12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 35.5% FG, 76.1% FT
Contemporary BAA/NBA Ranks (1948-49 through 1954-55 season)
10th Points, 16th PPG
4th FGs Made, 24th FTs Made
10th Assists, 17th APG
13th Rebounds*, 16th RPG*
6th Games Played, 14th Minutes Played**
*stat not kept until 1950-51 season
** stat not kept until 1951-52 season