This is the third in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Continuing with number 14 – Vern Mikkelsen. We’ll take an in-depth look at the first-ever NBA title, won by Mikkelsen and his teammates.
Nicknamed The Great Dane, Mikkelsen was one of the larger players of the 1950s. Standing at 6’7″ and weighing 230 lbs, Mikkelsen would be by far undersized for the Power Forward position in today’s game.
Mikkelsen played his whole 10 season career with the Minneapolis Lakers. Playing in 785 games and scoring 11,204 points. It is also notable that Mikkelsen grabbed 6,525 rebounds between ’51-’59 and played 20,545 minutes between ’52-’59, the NBA only started measuring rebounds in the 1950-51 season and minutes in 1951-52.
In his 10 seasons, Mikkelsen made 6 All-Star appearances becoming a key contributor in the first 4 NBA championships for the Lakers. The first of which coming in 1950, along with the first-ever ‘Three-peat’ coming between ’52-’54. He averaged a double-double for his career at 14.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG, attaining the illusive double-double season 4 times throughout the ’50s.
With little record kept of in-game moments from the California native, due to it being the 1950s of course, we have decided to recap the Power Forward’s experience during his rookie season in which his team won the first-ever NBA championship in 1950.
The First NBA Title:
In 1949, the BAA and NBL merged to give forge to the NBA. Consisting of 17 teams spread over 3 divisions in its inaugural season, with the Minneapolis Lakers being assigned to the Central Division. The first game was played on Saturday the October 29, 1949 with the Denver Nuggets visiting the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (later becoming the Atlanta Hawks).
The Lakers finished the season 1st in the Central Division with a record of 51-17, coming 4th in the NBA in points scoring 84.1 PPG. They then had to play a 1 game tiebreaker against the Rochester Royals (later becoming the Sacramento Kings) to decide who would take the number 1 seed in the Central Division. The Lakers went on to beat the Royals 78-76. Mikkelsen scored 12 points in the game, with his colleague George Mikan leading the scoring charge with 35 points.
Securing the 1 seed, the Lakers would then go onto play in a Central Division Semifinal against the Chicago Stags in a best of 3 series. The Lakers took the first game 85-75 with Mikkelsen scoring 14 points, Minneapolis was once again lead by Mikan with 30 points.
Onto game 2 in Chicago, the Lakers prove too strong for the Stags and win 75-67 and the series 2-0. Mikkelsen scoring a lesser 7 points in the game, Mikan had another impressive night scoring 34 points.
Next up for the Lakers was the Central Division Finals against the Fort Wayne Pistons (later the Detroit Pistons) in a best of 3 series. The Lakers would comfortably win at home in the first game 93-79, Mikkelsen finished with 18 points along with a relatively quiet game from Mikan who finished with 24 points.
Game 2 presented a slightly closer match-up, although the Lakers still won in the end 89-82, completing another series sweep. Mikan more than redeemed himself with 37 points, going 17 for 18 from the line, with Mikkelsen finishing with 9 points.
Next up for Minneapolis was a Semifinal match-up against the Andersen Packers. This was due to there being an odd number of Divisions in the league at the time (3), meaning the team with the highest winning percentage throughout the season advanced to the Finals and the other two Division winners would play in a Semifinal.
This was once again a best of 3 series. The Lakers would get off to a strong start, blowing the Packers out in a 75-50 victory. This was down to a major defensive effort by the Lakers, as the Packers lead the league in points scored in the regular season, averaging 87.3 PPG. Mikan led the way once again for the Lakers, scoring 26 points in the victory, Mikkelsen would finish with 10.
Game 2 presented the Lakers with the opportunity to sweep there way into the finals, and that they did, beating the Packers 90-71. Once again holding them below their season average, even on their home court. Mikkelsen had well and truly his best game of the playoffs so far, finishing with 23 points. The Great Dane was only outscored by Miken, who finished with 32.
The finals. The Minneapolis Lakers would face the Syracuse Nationals (later the Philadelphia 76ers) in a best of 7 series with the Lakers going on the road first. Game 1 was a bit of a close call for the Lakers, coming down to the last few possessions after being a close game all the way through. Minneapolis ultimately won 68-64, another outstanding performance by Mikan helped as he scored 37 points, with Mikkelsen only managing 6 points as he fouled out.
Game 2 saw the Lakers finally lose a game in the playoffs, a 91-85 defeat. Despite a 32 point game from Mikan, the Nationals were just too strong and the Lakers just couldn’t slow them down offensively (the Nationals had 6 players score in double digits). Mikkelsen was only able to muster 6 points in the disappointing defeat.
Onto game 3, which the Lakers would win convincingly 91-77. Credit shared between Mikan and Mikkelsen as they both score 28 and 27 respectively. The Lakers completed the crucial game 3 victory leading from the first quarter to the last. This win allowed them to take command of the series in a game that could have swung the balance either way.
Game 4 saw the Lakers take a stranglehold on the series, winning 77-69 in a spirited defence of home court. Mikan had another big game, scoring 28 points on 21 for 14 from the free-throw line. Mikkelsen had 14 points shooting 6 for 7 from the line.
With the finals starting to look like a mere formality, the Syracuse Nationals managed to take a game back in an 83-76 defeat for the Lakers. Mikan and Mikkelsen scored 28 and 17 points respectively, however scoring 8 points in the 2nd quarter more than sealed Minneapolis’s fate. Despite a spirited fightback and outscoring the Nationals by 11 in the 4th, the lead proved insurmountable.
Game 6, the Lakers’ last chance to win on their home court. A high scoring affair of 110-95 saw the Lakers clinch the title. Holding a 25-18 point lead at the end of the 1st quarter, the Lakers never relinquished it as they completed their championship march. Mikan and Mikkelsen both fouling out didn’t slow them down as the game was a blowout before that point. With Mikan scoring 40 points before he was sent to the bench.
Completing a 4-2 victory in the finals, Mikkelsen was a key part of the run with his speed and defensive prowess. Starting his Laker career off on the right foot with a championship only meant that better things were to come for The Great Dane.
Selected with a territorial pick by the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1949 BAA draft, Vern Mikkelsen went on to win 6 All-Star selections, 4 All-NBA selections, 4 NBA Championships and an Inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Never having the privilege of seeing the bright lights of Los Angeles, it can’t be forgotten the role Mikkelsen played in helping build what the Los Angeles Lakers are today. It’s a well earned place on this list as a Laker great.
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