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The Minneapolis Lakers were a professional basketball team that played in various versions of the NBA between 1947 and 1960. They were the predecessors to the successful Los Angeles Lakers franchise, which is today one of the best teams in the NBA. The Lakers were a pretty descent team, making 12 out of 13 playoffs alongside a haul of 6 NBA/BAA/NBL titles as well as 5 division titles. The team was based at the Minneapolis Auditorium.
How did the Minneapolis Lakers Start up?
The team was founded in 1947 when Morris Chalfen and Ben Berger purchased the NBL’s Detroit Gems, which had been disbanded recently. The new franchise borrowed the moniker “Lakers” from Minneapolis city’s nickname, “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. John Kundla who was then coach of the College of St Thomas basketball team was appointed the first head coach ready to start their life in competition.
The Minneapolis Lakers in Competition
The team hit the ground running, finishing their inaugural season, 1947/1948 with a league-leading 43-17 record. They brushed aside the Oshkosh All-Stars and the Tri-Cities enroute to the NBL finals. They then beat the Rochester Royals 3-1 in the finals to record a dream finish to their first season. At the end of the season, they moved from the NBL to the BAA. They had another successful season in 1948/1949 as they won the BAA championship, beating the Washington Capitols four to one thus becoming the only team ever to win their league championship in their first two years. Following the merger between the BAA and NBL in 1949 to form the NBA, the Lakers continued from where they had left off, winning the very first NBA championship, for their third straight championship.
During the 1950/1951 season, Minneapolis continued their dominance of the Western Division in regular season but missed out on the NBA finals for the first time after losing 3 to 1 in the western conference finals. They however reclaimed the title in 1951/1952 after pushing the New York Knickerbockers to game 7 in which they emerged victorious. Their dominance continued as they again beat the Knickerbockers 4 games to 1 in the 1952/1953 NBA finals to win their fourth league championship. They won their third straight title in 1954 when they beat the Syracuse Nationals 4 to 3 games to take their title tally to five.
From then on, Minneapolis entered a period of decline. After falling to the Fort Wayne Pistons in three games in the Western Finals of 1954/1955, they fell in the first round of the playoffs in the next two seasons. They went a step lower in 1957/1958, finishing last in the league with a 19-53 record. The team feigned resurgence in 1958/1959 as they reached the NBA finals where they lost to the Boston Celtics. They were defeated in 4 games to 3 by the St. Louis Hawks in the first round of the playoffs of the 1959/1960 season which turned out to be their final season in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Lakers’ Most Notable Moments
On January 18, 1960 when flying home from an away loss to St. Louis, the team had a brush with calamity when their plane was caught in a fierce snow storm. At one point, with the windshield wipers having malfunctioned, the pilots had to open the windows of the cockpit and manually wipe snow off the windshield. The pilot was forced 150 miles off course with on board navigation systems and radio communication dead. The plane, carrying the entire first team, team officials and some of their family members including children was forced to land at a corn field in Carroll, Iowa, stopping just 75 yards short of a steep cliff. Thankfully, no injuries or fatalities were reported.
The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers is undoubtedly the fiercest in the history of the NBA. The seeds of this rivalry were sown in the NBA final of 1959, the first meeting between the two franchises. The Boston Celtics swept the series in four games, beginning a string of eight consecutive NBA titles which saw the Celtics uproot Minneapolis as the greatest NBA dynasty and further establish the bitter rivalry that continues with the current Lakers franchise.
The Minneapolis Lakers’ Most Notable Players
Center George Mikans was undoubtedly the star of the franchise during his time in Minneapolis. He posted 1195 points in his first season with Minneapolis, becoming the only player to score 1000 points in an NBL season. He was instrumental in the Lakers’ phenomenal success between 1947 and 1956. This was evident from the declined Lakers’ performances after he called time on his playing career due to injuries. He was named the Associated Press greatest player of the first half century and was inducted to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.
Slater Martin played guard for the Lakers between 1949 and 1956 and his defensive contributions were instrumental in the Lakers’ four NBA championships during that time. During his time with Minneapolis he averaged 12.7 point per game. He recorded a career total 2302 defensive rebounds and was inducted into the NBA Hall of fame in 1982.
Another Hall of Famer Vern Mikkelsen played forward for Minneapolis from 1949 to 1959. He scored 10,063 points for the Lakers, averaging 14.4 ppg, a tally that assisted the Lakers to four NBA titles during his stay there. He is also noteworthy for holding the unenviable league record for most career disqualifications, 127 in 631 games.
What Happened to the Minneapolis Lakers?
The departure of star player George Mikans in 1958 saw the Lakers’ performances start to decline and with it, home game attendance. In order to keep the team afloat, owner Bob Short who had acquired the team decided to relocate the team to Los Angeles. The franchise retained the Lakers nickname and the team honors and officially became the first NBA team on the West Coast. Minneapolis would endure 30 years without an NBA franchise.