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YouTube Gold: George Mikan

Basketball’s first great big man was more surprising than you might think.

George Mikan Hook Shot Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

In basketball terms, George Mikan is long ago and far away: he retired in 1956, one year before Bill Russell revolutionized the center position and three before Wilt Chamberlain transformed it again.

Mikan played so long ago that his start in pro ball came before the NBA.

And as you’ll see in this video, everything was different. The lane hadn’t yet been widened in reaction to players like Russell and Chamberlain. We’re pretty sure there was no goaltending call and all of the payers in this video are white.

So it’s clearly from another era.

Yet Mikan was a transformative player himself. In his day, people thought that big men couldn’t be athletic and that really big men might as well not play because they had no chance to have serious skills.

Mikan was the first player to challenge that assumption.

As you’ll see here, he shows some advanced skills. First, it’s not as if he’s chained to the lane as a defender. And second, if you watch the pass at the end, that’s really something way ahead of his era, much less for a big man. It’s a no look bounce pass to a moving teammate. A lot of players today couldn’t pull that off.