So, about 57 years ago, the most storied professional franchise in Minnesota history closed the doors and took their team, and Minnesota nickname, to Los Angeles.
Do you know where Minneapolis, and eventually Los Angeles, Lakers got their name from? You guessed it, the LAKES! Minnesota Lakes. You know, “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Wow, that makes SO MUCH SENSE. So, naturally, the name made sense for LA too, since they have so many lakes. They kept the nickname, becoming the Los Angeles Lakers. Still making sense?
Nope, but the double L’s roll right off the tongue so hey, why not.
Before moving West, the Minneapolis Lakers franchise dominated the professional scene in Minnesota for one beautiful decade and are known as the NBA’s first dynasty. Formed in 1947 as part of the National Basketball League (NBL), the Minneapolis Lakers were formed when a terrible team called the Detroit Gems decided to give up on the dream. A group of Minneapolis big-timers purchased the franchise and brought them to the beautiful state of Minnesota. Four games into their inaugural season, the Lakers picked up the best player in the world in George Mikan. He became available when the league he played for, the Professional Basketball League of America, folded.
Mikan would lead the Lakers to the NBL Championship in its first year, before they moved to the better funded 2-year old Basketball Association of America, the following year. Behind Mikan, they would win the BAA Championship in their first season in that league too. The BAA and NBL merged that summer (the NBL ran out of money and was on the brink of folding) and took on a new name and acronym – National Basketball Association or NBA.
Guess who won the first NBA Championship? If you guessed that legendary Lakers team from Minneapolis, you guessed right! They would go on to win 4 of the first 5 NBA Championships behind George Mikan. The Minneapolis Lakers would win their last NBA Championship in 1954 and begin to slide. The team was sold to a corporation led by a man named Bob Short who kept the Lakers in Minnesota for 3 more years but then took them to Los Angeles.
You can read all the details on the story here and I would HIGHLY recommend it. Stew Thornley wrote Basketball’s Original Dynasty: The History of the Lakers.
Well, the now Los Angeles Lakers brought out a new throwback jersey they are very excited about. They haven’t changed their logo since moving to LA, so they had to find something different. Guess what they came up with, opening old wounds some of us didn’t know we had.
Minnesota isn’t known for much. We have really nice people who are well-educated and we have a weird pride about our state, that most other states don’t carry. We are bitter about a few things that have happened to Minnesota over its history. Two of them involve professional sports teams. The most recent one is the Minnesota North Stars who we can write about another day. But, the first crushing loss in Minnesota sports was losing the Lakers.
Both franchises took the nickname with them.
Because the Lakers were great, they had a brand that Bob Short didn’t want to lose. And, like I said before, the L’s roll right off the tongue. But with the name, they also took the history. That’s what really sucks. The first dynasty in NBA history is from our great state but is mostly forgotten by those who don’t pay close attention to the league and its history. When you think Lakers, you think about Jerry West, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy, not George Mikan (although he was so good that you do hear him mentioned sometimes with the Laker greats) and Vern Mikkelsen. Elgin Baylor was drafted while the Lakers were still in Minnesota won Rookie of the Year here in ’58-’59. He would have brought the fans and money back to Minnesota if they would have been given a couple more seasons. He was that type of player.
When Minnesota brought an NBA team back in 1987 they should’ve had the option of picking back up a great name that should have had great, rich Minnesota history. Instead, they were relegated to picking a new name. Let me be clear. I like the Timberwolves name and I am a die-hard (although the logo has had some issues). This is a principle thing. Bob Short was a business man who was hired to make his corporation money. But, he should have left the history here.
Another tragedy left by all of this? George Mikan was the league’s first superstar and can be credited as part of the reason why the NBA was able to take off, when other leagues didn’t. He doesn’t have his 99 jersey hanging in the rafters of a stadium. What a joke.
So, they feel entitled enough to sport a jersey with Minneapolis on the front but they can’t retire the jersey of the player who made their franchise. Without George Mikan, there likely isn’t a Los Angeles Lakers team.
So, get bent LA. Pretend to be Minnesota all you want, but until you’ve spent a weekend at the cabin, lakes won’t be your thing.
This article was syndicated with permission