Brendan Koerner was wondering about athletes who were so good that they forced rule changes in their sports. It got me thinking about George Mikan, “Mr. Basketball,” who was the Michael Jordan of the 1950s, and also led me to YouTube gold, a 37 minute episode of a show called “Vintage NBA,” which, judging by its themes, incoherence and jokey production style, was presumably made for broadcast in nursing homes. I’m not sure I can convince you to watch the whole thing—I did, but your results may vary if you don’t like some combination of basketball, Minneapolis, weird outfits, or kitsch tv—but I’ve snipped out some highlights for you.
Mikan was 6′ 10” and apparently started playing basketball at a time when it was believed that tall people wouldn’t be good at the sport. Given the ethos of the time, he dominated the league, leading his team to five championships—they called them “the worlds”—and being voted basketball player of the century in the early fifties, which may have been a tad ambitious. He wore his glasses in every game.
Mikan did indeed force the league to change the rules, widening the lane so he would to be further from the basket, banning goal tending—sample quote: “Yeah, the goal tending rule came in because I used to goal tend”—and instituting the shot clock after the rather craven Celtics beat Mikan’s team, the Minneapolis Lakers, by holding the ball for most of the game (they won 19-18).
There are also hilarious fashions off the court, and short shorts on the court.
Other things you’ll see in the course of the show:
– Robin Roberts saying “You cannot keep me off the web” while using this “computer”:
– An 1950s basketball announcer who uses phrases like “…how well I remember that big night in New York City when they beat the powerful Knickerbockers to do it.” There’s a lot more like it:
– What do you do when you don’t have very much game footage? Show endless videos of practice and exhausting discussions of basic basketball tactics. Say practice more often than Allen Iverson. At one point, define the word “practice” in an on-screen chyron. You can fast forward through a lot of this.
– A cameo of Red Auerbach, referred to as a man who “wrote a book about how to play basketball.”
– “Kangaroo Jim”
– And the coup de grace, a sudden detour into a five minute video essay on other NBA players who wear glasses, like the frankly astonishing Kurt Rambis…
…yes, I would like a Rambis Youth t-shirt.