Retired McAuliffe Middle School art teacher knew famed Laker George Mikan

Bill Anderson with his 1953 basketball card exhibit of George Mikan that he got signed by Mikan and Laker teammates Whitey Skoog, Vern Mikkelsen, Lew Hitch, Howie Schultz and Pep Saul. Photo by Chris MacDonald

The Los Angeles Lakers recently retired George Mikan’s #99 jersey and raised it to the rafters of the Arena to join other Laker greats.

Retired McAuliffe Middle School art teacher Bill Anderson grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, rooting for Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers.

He saw him play, talked with him and even got autographs. More on that later, but first, here’s how great the guy was.

Mikan, who the Associated Press named the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th Century, played for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1947 to 1956. He coached them in 1957-58.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center dominated leagues, including the new NBA, leading his team (named after Minnesota’s  10,000 lakes) to five NBA Championships. He perfected a hook shot that would be the foundation for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s famous Skyhook. Shaquille O’Neal once told his friend Mikan, “Without you, there would be no me.”

Mikan, who wore glasses, was a frequent league scoring and rebound champ. Not bad for a fellow who got cut from his freshman basketball team at Joliet Catholic High School.

DePaul’s legendary coach, Ray Meyer, saw the big, somewhat clumsy giant and worked on his footwork and agility, including having him dance with the shortest girls at school.

He became Mr. Basketball in the NBA and averaged a high of 28.4 points a game. The Lakers moved to Los Angeles for the 1960 season and were purchased by Dr. Jerry Buss in 1979. Buss knew the Lakers history and talked with the retired gentle giant. He told him, “One day your name will be up in lights.”

On Oct. 30Th, as Mikan’s family looked on, Buss’ daughter Jeanie made it happen as the Lakers honored the first famous big man in the NBA. Also admiring the ceremony on TV was a former Minnesota native and athlete, HB’s Bill Anderson.

“George Mikan was a hero of mine,” said the 81-year-old, who as a 12-year-old saw Mikan and the Lakers play a 1953 pre-season game in the Mankato High School gym.

Anderson, who brought with him a Mikan basketball card from a Wheaties box, approached the gentle giant for an autograph. “The first thing I did was look down at his gigantic feet. Then I looked up, trying to see his head, high above me,” said the art teacher.

The nice man, who would later become the American Basketball Association’s first Commissioner in 1967, has a basketball drill named after him that’s used across the nation.

The Mikan, a layup combination drill using both hands, is practiced by centers, forwards and other basketball players at all levels.

Mikan died at 80 in 2005 but his legacy lives on.