Way before Coach Pop decided to “Hack-a-Shaq” George Mikan was one of the best players of his generation. In the early 1950’s he revolutionized the whole basketball world with his combination of size and skill. This forced the NBA to make some changes in the rules.
What rule change did the NBA make to stop George Mikan? In 1951 to at least try to slow Mikan from complete domination in the paint, the free-throw lane was widened from 6 feet to 12. It entered the annals of the basketball world with the name “Mikan Rule”. The painted area would later be widened again in 1964 to try and temper the dominance of Wilt Chamberlain, it now sits at 16feet in NBA the NBA rule book.
With a height of 208cm and excellent coordination, one might even say “natural plasticity”, Lakers player George Mikan managed to demonstrate unrivaled dominance in the early days of professional basketball. In the following article, we will talk about this rule as well as Mikan’s dominance in basketball.
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Mikan was a phenomenon
And at the beginning of his career in basketball, the Illinois giant did not meet a worthy opponent of the same height that could temper his dominance. He amassed a lot of points and there was not a player of his caliber in the league. After joining the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 he would lead them to 5 titles in the next 6 years before retiring. This level of Russel/Jordan esq dominance forced the developing sport of Basketball to alter rules to level the playing field.
That was enough for the Board of Governors, at the urging of Ned Irish, owner of the New York Knicks, to agree to doubling the size of the painted zone in 1952. The free throw line was widened from 1.8 meters (6 ft) to 3.6 meters (12 ft) in 1952. This painted zone controls the area around the basket, attacking players are only allowed to spend a maximum of 3 seconds inside it. The aim of widening it was nothing more than to prevent Mikan receiving the ball so close to the basket. Moving him away from the basket would therefore mean he was easier to defend and in theory, teams without Mikan would have more of a chance.
Mikan started having problems
The “3-second attack” rule (in the paint, of course) has been in place since 1935, but from the time it was introduced until 1952, no player suffered as much from these rules as the Lakers’ center because of his 3-second dominance. 3.5 meters was not so overwhelming. On the other hand, the increased size of the “3-second zone” made smaller players more likely to attack from the paint as the space expanded.
This created a double problem for Mikan. While he managed to add success after success (2 championships in the first 3 seasons), the chances of the rest of the contenders decreased every year, reducing the equality that should always prevail. Somehow, it was not easy to contain Mikan, because, at the same time, he was a big hit with the fans. One example will suffice to illustrate this.
When the Minneapolis Lakers visited New York, advertising posters usually did not display the name of the Minnesota franchise, but only Mikan’s last name. In addition to this fact of unprecedented interest, the League tried to schedule doubleheaders (double matches) with other teams, thereby increasing the audience in the stands. And although Ben Simmons did not speak very flatteringly about Mikan and his playing style, he not only and not so much “pushed the balls out from under the hole”, but threw them with resistance from the shield with a hook and a half-hook, often in motion, showing an unprecedented, how for a player of his height coordination!
However, this change significantly reduced Mikan’s offensive scoring contribution, which dropped from 28.4 points in 1951 to 23.8 in 1952, and this figure began to decline even more over time, something also due to the constant injuries and ailments that he endured as the seasons progressed. However, the Lakers won 3 more championships with Mikan, making the franchise the NBA’s first dynasty, setting the stage for a rivalry with Boston.
George Mikan and the NBA Shot Clock
George Mikan is the most dominant player in the history of the sport. No other athlete has influenced such a huge number of rule changes. Of course, some of the new rules had to be named after Mikan.
The 24-second shot clock, which was also introduced – not to slow Mikan down, but to speed teams playing against him up. After the Fort Wayne Pistons played some unwatchable delaying tactics in the 1950 Finals. They passed the ball aimlessly from side to side as they didn’t want to transfer possession to the Lakers and allow Mikan to dominate the game. The game finished a still standing lowest score record 19-18 to the Pistons. In the following years the league’s popularity would decline. The shot clock was a radical idea to speed up play and make the game more entertaining. The simple math behind it followed that the most entertaining games usually featured each team hoisting about sixty shots, or 120 total per match. 120 shots was then divided by 48 minutes of play. Giving us the iconic 24 seconds that almost all Basketball Leagues in the world use today. The results were spectacular.
Mikan’s original rule is now known as goaltending. In Mikan’s Collegiate days when basketball was still developing, the center was a colossus in defensive play. At that time, a player with a height of 2.08, especially among students, was a rarity. Mikan used his advantage and simply batted away the balls flying into the DePaul Blue Demons basket. In 1944, they decided to stop this unfair advantage, and the NCAA, and after it, the NBL (the NBA had not yet formed) introduced the original “George Mikan Rule” – the ball that passed the highest point of the throw trajectory must not be touched by the defending side. Later, the name “Bill Russell‘s rule” was also attached to this law.
Like Mikan’s game, the consequences of this innovation shook the league to its very foundations. The tempo and duration of possession could now freely vary over the course of the game. The teams had a choice; those who did not do it were immediately at a disadvantage.
The combined influence of Mikan and the 24 second rule (as a response to the post and the strategy to neutralize him) worked to the point where time and space were at the mercy of the players and coaches. The realization that the players and the game itself are now one has made basketball modern. This assertion of subjectivity opened up many possibilities; game parameters could now be manipulated rather than simply taken for granted.
Much of the game play we marvel at today is as a result of teams trying to counter Mikan through altering the rules and creating a more entertaining, less big man dominated sport. Mikan was the OG Unicorn.