ProHoopsHistory HOF: Clyde Lovellette

(Corbis Images)
(Corbis Images)

With the retirement of George Mikan from pro-basketball, Clyde Lovelette has a big pair of shoes to try and fill. The 6ft. 9in., 245lb. Indianian will get some help from the five rookies who joined the team this season.

Replacing a legend is never easy, let alone a generational, epochal player like George Mikan. And yet, Clyde Lovellette was charged with that momentous duty. Sky-high expectations from onlookers were complicated by the fact that Lovellette’s rookie season didn’t come after Mikan retired, it came during Mikan’s, supposedly, final season.

Big George wasn’t exactly thrilled with a talented young center chomping for playing time, but Lovellette proved instrumental in Minneapolis capturing it’s sixth and final title. His regular season average of 8 points and 5.5 rebounds bumped up to 10 points and 10 rebounds a night in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Clyde scored a team-high 16 points off the bench after Mikan got into foul trouble. The Lakers prevailed 79-68 over the Syracuse Nationals. The series dragged on for six more games with the Lakers finally ousting the Nats in Game 7.

Mikan retired and Lovellette became the offensive focus of the Lakers. He scored 19 points and hauled in 11.5 rebounds for the 1954-55 season. However, Mikan made an ill-fated return during the 1955-56 season and relegated Lovellette to the bench once again for half of that season. Clyde would nonetheless give the Lakers the lion’s share of minutes at center, despite not starting, and delivered his best year yet with 21.5 points and a career-high 14 rebounds a game. The strain of playing in Minnesota continued though. The unfair comparisons to Mikan, the embarrassing and awkward Mikan comeback, and the Lakers aging roster conspired to land Lovellette in Cincinnati for the 1957-58 season.

Lovellette’s tenure with the Royals could have been a great redemption story. He formed a powerful frontcourt trio with Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman that could, hopefully, one day rival the glory of the Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard trio that propelled Minneapolis to title after title. It was not to be, though. In the playoffs Stokes suffered his debilitating paralysis and new ownership took over the Royals blowing up the roster that offseason. After just one year, Lovellette was on the move yet again.

Landing with the St. Louis Hawks for the 1958-59 season, Lovellette was again put to the bench. Older and wiser, Lovellette found the Hawks to his liking despite the benching. Old Lakers teammate Slater Martin was running point guard for the Hawks and their starting frontcourt of Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Chuck Share was working just fine. Clyde, who was never a good or even average defender, would be brought in off the bench to produce a burst of points to knock out the opponent.

After acclimating himself to the Hawks for a season, Lovellette exploded from 1960 to 1962 in a fit of offensive fury. He would average 21 points a night in just 30 minutes of action. His hook shot was devastating and he’d produce some bone-shaking picks to free up Hagan and Pettit. On the boards he grabbed 10 rebounds nightly and his elbows warded off opponents left and right. The Hawks during these years made the NBA Finals twice but would lose to the Boston Celtics each time.

In an odd twist, Lovellette wound up finishing his career with those Celtics in 1963 and 1964. His offensive acumen had given way to age and an ever-expanding waistline. Lovellette had been generously listed at 235 pounds, but one look at his jersey told a different story. In any event, the old and cagey Clyde delivered enough elbows and boards to pitch in to Boston’s two titles during those two seasons.

The four-time all-star retired after the 1964 season.

During his career he endured undue comparisons and faced scrapheap treatment, but persevered. He was the first man to average over 20 points in less than 30 minutes a game for a whole season. Along with Ricky Pierce, he’s the only man to do that twice in a career.

So in the end, he never quite filled the shoes of George Mikan in Minneapolis, but very few centers who’ve since followed have ever filled the shoes of Clyde Lovellette.

Seasons Played: 1954 – 1964

Accolades

NBA -
3x Champion (1954, 1963-’64)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1956)
4x All-Star (1956-’57, 1960-’61)

Statistics

NBA - 704 Games
17.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44.3% FG, 75.7% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1954 – 1964)
8th Points, 20th PPG
5th FGs Made, 17th FG%
19th FTs Made
6th Rebounds, 20th RPG
5th Games Played, 11th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Slater Martin

Slater Martin

A no-nonsense, all business point guard, Slater Martin doesn’t leave us much to appreciate in terms of numbers. Only five times in his 11-year career did he average over 10 points a game, and his highest single-season scoring average was 13.6 in 1955. Even as a point guard, he averaged over five assists per game just three times, peaking with 6.2 in 1956. He shot 36% from the field for his career, which was pretty bad even for the era.

But what makes Slater a Hall of Famer is something that can’t quite be found in the standard quantitative measure. His greatest attributes on the court were stern determination, unflappable ball-handling, and tenacious pit bull defense.

With the Minneapolis Lakers, the diminutive Martin was always overshadowed by the powerful frontcourt trio of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard (and later on Clyde Lovellette). Those players had a way of filling up the bucket and Martin had a way of making sure everything was in place on offense when it came time to set them up. His backcourt play was essential for the Lakers capturing four titles in the 1950s as he helped frustrate the Rochester Royals who were bloated with talented guards.

By 1956, Martin was a four-time All-Star and a two-time member of the All-NBA team, however, the Lakers low-balled the point guard in contract negotiations. Martin threatened to retire and return to his hometown Houston. Martin didn’t return to Texas just yet, though, thanks to some backroom wheeling and dealing.

The St. Louis Hawks had some mighty fine frontcourt talent, but were lacking an unflappable point guard who could handle and dispense defensive pressure. Owner Ben Kerner convinced New York Knicks owner Ned Irish to trade for Martin, and then flip Martin to the Hawks, since the Lakers would never trade Martin to a divisional rival.

Sure enough after the roundabout transaction, Martin helped lead the Hawks to two NBA Finals appearances. Although they lost the 1957 Finals, Martin played a key role in holding Celtics stars Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman to a woeful 5-40 shooting performance in the deciding Game 7. The next season in 1958, the Hawks defeated Boston in a Finals rematch, giving Martin his fifth title.

Perhaps a sixth would have followed in 1959 or 1960. In 1959, however, Martin had succumbed during the 1st postseason games due to a broken fibula he suffered against his old team, the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1960, he mustered only three postseason games as Father Time bore down heavily on Martin.

But really, what else would a sixth title have added to Martin’s career that five hadn’t already done? He was already recognized by peers, especially Cousy, as the best defensive guard of the era. We’d do well to keep up that assessment of Slater Martin.

Seasons Played: 1950 – 1960

Accolades

NBA -
5x Champion (1950, 1952-’54, 1958)
5x All-NBA 2nd Team (1955-’59)
7x All-Star (1953-’59)

Statistics

NBA - 745 Games
9.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.4 RPG, 36.4% FG, 76.2% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1950 – 1960)
3rd Assists, 11th APG
17th Points, 17th FTs Made, 18th FGs Made
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard (Corbis Images)
Jim Pollard (Corbis Images)

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 Laker franchise had just been formed from the remains of the National Basketball League’s defunct Detroit Gems in 1947.

It was hard to imagine a player any better than Pollard would become available for Minneapolis. 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 his club, the Chicago Gears, disbanded after their owner started a financially disastrous renegade pro basketball league.

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 solved  the impasse.

Pollard and Mikan would engage in a rudimentary form of the pick and roll. In hindsight this seems a painfully obvious solution. 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.

And that perhaps was Pollard’s underrated skill: passing. He had a keen for a forward and regularly finished in the top 20 in assists per game.

The Lakers rode these two stars to a title in the NBL in 1948. Another title followed suit in 1949 after the Lakers jumped ship to the BAA. A third-straight title came their way in 1950 in the newly-formed 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, dominating front court 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.

Over the ensuing decades, the Lakers would continue to enjoy a wealth of superstar talent, but never forget that Jim Pollard was the first in that line.

Years Played: 1947 – 1955

Minneapolis Lakers
Minneapolis Lakers

Accolades

NBL -
Champion (1948)
All-NBL 1st Team (1948)
BAA -
Champion (1949)
All-BAA 1st Team (1949)
NBA -
4x Champion (1950, 1952-’54)
All-NBA 1st Team (1950)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1952, 1954)
4x All-Star (1951-’52, 1954-’55)

Statistics

League G PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
NBL (1947-48) 59 12.9 - - - 0.676
BAA (1948-49) 53 14.8 - 2.7 0.396 0.687
NBA (1949-55) 385 12.9 7.8 3.3 0.355 0.761
Total 497 13.1 7.8 3.2 0.360 0.741

Pro Hoops History HOF: Vern Mikkelsen

Vern Mikkelsen (ESPN)
Vern Mikkelsen (ESPN)

Along with Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen was the youthful injection needed to prolong and sustain the Minneapolis Lakers dynasty of the 1940s and 1950s. The Lakers had already won back-to-back titles in 1948 and 1949. In Vern’s rookie year of 1950 they snagged a third. After a one-year interregnum, the Lakers struck back with a second three-peat of titles in 1952, 1953, and 1954.

Vern’s place on these titles teams and his successful career overall, as with most things, wasn’t a certified given. What ultimately made it successful was Mikkelsen’s penchant for overachieving and his unparalleled level of grit, as well as some smart coaching moves by Laker coach John Kundla.

So, about that grit.

Vern Mikkelsen wasn’t a man who played basketball in what can be described as a beautiful fashion, unless you’re Gregg Popovich and you like some nasty. You can believe that Mikkelsen brought the nasty night and day for the Lakers. But Vern’s nasty almost never got a chance to show its bad self.

A standout in college and high school playing center, Mikkelsen’s first few pro games were played in a double-center lineup with George Mikan. After seeing the abysmal results, John Kundla made a fateful decision to shift Vern to  forward spot despite Vern’s unfamiliarity with the position. Kundla ordered Vern to just scrap and bruise opposing big men. He was to fight for rebounds, careen on defense, gobble up garbage second-chance points if Mikan or Jim Pollard missed shots, and set bone-chilling picks to free up Martin and sharp-shooting Bob Harrison on offense.

This experiment eventually coalesced into Mikkelsen instigating the power forward spot along with Bob Pettit a few seasons later. Pettit would certainly add more offensive finesse to the position, but Vern eventually learned how to deliver a set overhand shot. It went in often enough to keep defenses honest and prevent them from sagging down too much on Mikan.

But that shot was a nice touch. Mikkelsen’s real purpose was all about that rough and tumble play. During his career, Mikkelsen earned four fouls a game which places him in the vanguard for that category. For the 1950s, he racked up more personal fouls than any other player, finishing 359 ahead of second-place Dolph Schayes.

Disruption was basically the name of Vern’s game. The Dennis Rodmans, Charles Oakleys, and other agitators owe Vern a solemn debt for his groundbreaking brawn in the 1950s. It should be noted that Vern did all of this with a gentlemanly air and was a completely affable man off the court. Being nasty didn’t mean he was dirty. He hustled his butt up and down the court on every play.

That kind of tireless motor was respected by his contemporaries. Mikkelsen was honored with six All-Star Games and was on the All-NBA 2nd Team for four straight seasons. It takes a special player to go from star college center to subsumed power forward and somehow raise his level of play.

That’s Vern Mikkelsen, the eternal overachiever.

Years Played: 1949 – 1959

Minneapolis Lakers
Minneapolis Lakers

Accolades

NBA -
4x Champion (1950, 1952-’54)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1951-’53, 1955)
6x All-Star (1951-’57)

Statistics

NBA – 699 Games
14.4 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 40.3% FG, 76.6% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1949-50 through 1958-59 seasons)
4th Rebounds*, 18th RPG*
6th Points, 21st PPG
6th FGs Made, 22nd FG%
8th FTs Made, 29th FT%
15th Assists
1st Games Played, 5th Minutes Played**

*Stat not kept until the 1950-51 season
** Stat not kept until the 1951-52 season

Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor (Sports Illustrated)

Elgin Baylor is one of the revolutionaries of basketball. He didn’t just play the game well, or take existing modes of playing to new heights. Certainly, he did do all that.

But what he also did was transform the game. His ability to hang in the air, adjust shots, contort and beguile defenders had been done before. However, no one had done it all with the regularity and flare Elgin did. He could take off on one side of the basket and finish on the other side after having switched the ball to a different hand, or reversing his body position, or swinging the ball like a peach in his hand.

He was also known for pump-faking at around the free throw line, getting his man in the air, and then jumping around the airborne defender for a leaning jump shot.

His defense, passing, and rebounding have always been underrated, perhaps understandably, because of his prodigious offense. While airborne himself, Baylor could just as easily decide to swing a pass instead of firing off a shot. This is a man who six times averaged over 4.5 APG. And at just 6’5″, Baylor was also a superb rebounder peaking in 1961 with 19.8 boards a game.

Elgin also had this quirky nervous twitch on his face that threw defenders off. They never exactly knew which direction he was preparing to go since his facial muscles were making all kinds of crazy movements.

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Pro Hoops History HOF: George Mikan

George Mikan (nbaavenue.blogspot.com)
George Mikan (nbaavenue.blogspot.com)

George Mikan wasn’t the first great basketball player. He wasn’t the first basketball star. His Minneapolis Lakers weren’t the first professional basketball team to enjoy dynastic domination over opponents.

However, Mikan was the first center to utterly control basketball. Before him, centers were viewed as stiffs to win jump balls and corral rebounds. His arrival helped convince the basketball masses that a man of his height could be an offensive wrecking ball. Mikan could hit hook shots with either hand with ease since its form was textbook. His massive lower body would anchor the shot while his gargantuan off-arm would ward off defenders giving him ample space to wield his devastating shot.

Big George had a big competitive spirit, too. He’d cuss out teammates for not giving him the ball when he demanded it. In college, he obliterated Rhode Island State University after its coach boasted they could literally run Mikan off the court with their speed. Mikan’s DePaul squad whipped Rhode Island State 97 to 53. Mikan alone had 53 points in the game.

For all of Mikan’s greatness, though, he never won alone. With the NBL’s Chicago Gears, he teamed with sharp-shooting ace Bobby McDermott to win that league’s title in 1947. Moving to the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948, Mikan teamed with super forward Jim Pollard and coach John Kundla to win the NBL title again. Moving to the BAA in 1949, the Lakers again won the title. In 1950, they won the newly formed NBA’s first title. The Rochester Royals interrupted the Laker Dynasty in 1951 thanks to a Mikan injury, but Minneapolis bounced back. The Lakers won the NBA title in 1952, 1953, and 1954 with the aid of newcomers like Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, and Clyde Lovellette.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 7 titles in 8 years for George Mikan.

His domination instigated numerous rule changes like the widened lane, outlawing defensive goaltending, and proposals to raise the height of the hoop beyond 10 feet. His physical gifts and talent threatened to overwhelm the game as he averaged nearly 30 points per game some seasons when hardly anyone else cracked 20 PPG.

Without Mikan’s personal, and Minneapolis’ collective, excellence in the 1940s and 1950s, professional basketball may have limped along for years to come. But there was a Mikan and there was his dynasty in Minnesota to give professional basketball its booster shot to success.

For that Mikan surely deserves to be the first honoree of the Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame.

Years Played: 1946 – 1954, 1956

Accolades

NBL -
2x Champion (1947-48)
MVP (1948)
2x All-NBL 1st Team (1947-’48)
Rookie of the Year (1947)

BAA -
Champion (1949)
All-BAA 1st Team (1949)

NBA -
4x Champion (1950, 1952-’54)
5x All-NBA 1st Team (1950-’54)
4x All-Star (1951-’54)
All-Star Game MVP (1953)

Statistics

NBL Career (1946-47 through 1947-48)
BAA Career (1948-49)
NBA Career (1949-50 through 1953-54)

NBL Stats and Ranks
19.9 PPG
1608 Points – 14th All-Time
553 FGs – 17th All-Time
502 FTs – 13th All-Time

BAA/NBA Career Averages and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 402 70 2nd
PPG 24.3 24 1st
RPG 14.1 13.9 1st
APG 3 2.2 20th
TS% 0.484 0.493 14th
FG% 0.404 0.404 10th
FT% 0.782 0.786 15th
PER 27.9 28.5 1st
WS/48 0.264 0.254 2nd

BAA/NBA Career Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 402 70 2nd
Minutes 7585 1500 9th
Points 9766 1680 1st
Rebounds 3859 665 1st
Assists 1192 155 10th
WS 107.1 17 1st

Minutes, WS/48, and PER unknown prior to 1951-52 season
Rebounds unknown prior to 1950-51 season

The Lowdown: Rudy LaRusso

Years Active: 1960 – 1969
Regular Season Stats: 736 games, 33.3 MPG
15.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 43.1% FG, 76.7% FT
Postseason Stats: 93 games, 34.3 MPG
14.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 40.5% FG, 75.1% FT
Accolades: All-Defensive 2nd Team (1969), 4x All-Star (1963, ’66, ’68-’69)

NBA Photo Library/Getty Images
NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

At first glance, Rudy LaRusso hardly seems the athlete best equipped to intellectualize on any sport, including his own, basketball. There is something about his prognathous jaw and the occasional scowl on his big, shaggy face that tells you not to annoy him. Players claim that meeting him head to head on a basketball court is a little like playing a game of tag on the freeway during rush hour.

- Via Brave Words From A Hawk And A Warrior

Rudy LaRusso was certainly an intellectual having graduated from Ivy League Dartmouth College in 1959. But he was also certainly worthy of that freeway description. LaRusso was one of the roughest, toughest players of the 1960s NBA. It was a  turbulent decade that practically framed his career. His first professional game was October 18, 1959 as a member of the Minneapolis Lakers and his last game was April 5, 1969 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

In between these two games, LaRusso staked his claim as an instrumental piece in the story of the NBA during that decade. However, his instrumental role was always a supporting one. Needless to say, support staff aren’t always recognized for the pivotal roles they play. LaRusso is no exception to that. Appreciated by the few, overlooked and unknown to the masses, this is the wild ride of the rowdy career Rudy LaRusso.

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