Lakers' first title run came 60 years ago

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2008 - 10:04 PM

The NBA doesn't acknowledge it, but the Lakers, back in town Wednesday, won their first of many championships in their first season of existence.

The appearance of the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center on Wednesday brought to mind the fact that this is the 60th anniversary of the Minneapolis Lakers' first championship, coming as an expansion team in the National Basketball League in 1947-48.

The Lakers continued to win five more titles over the next six seasons before the heart of the team, center George Mikan and forward Jim Pollard, retired.

The Lakers never get credit for their first title because the following year, 1948-49, the Lakers and three other teams -- Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Rochester -- left the NBL for what was called the BAA at the time. NBA history books credit the Baltimore Bullets as the 1947-48 champions.

Yes, I started the Lakers franchise with the backing of the late Morris Chalfen and Ben Berger, who came up with $15,000 to buy the Detroit Gems, an NBL franchise that won four of 44 games in 1946-47 and didn't contribute any players to the new team. I remember holding that check in my hands as I flew to Detroit, wanting to make sure I didn't lose it, before I turned it over to Gems owner Morris Winston at the Detroit airport.

You wonder how I could work for the Lakers and still be a sportswriter. Well, in those days, the words "conflict of interest" didn't exist. Every newspaper beat writer had a side job doing publicity for different sports.

And when I went to Minneapolis Tribune editor Gideon Seymour and sports editor Charles Johnson and told them that the area could get its first major league sport and that Chalfen and Berger weren't going to be interested unless I was a part of it, they said to go ahead, but don't write about the Lakers. Max Winter was brought in as general manager, but everybody knew I was involved, and since Winter spent most of the winter in his Honolulu home, I ran the team.

It's interesting to note that while the Lakers were originally bought for $15,000, Bob Short later sold the team to Jack Kent Cooke in 1965 for more than $5 million, Jerry Buss bought it in 1979 for more than $60 million and today the team is worth more than $700 million.

Deal called off

The Lakers never would have moved to Los Angeles had we been able to complete a deal I had made with the Celtics that was to have brought Bill Russell here.

While Winter was involved, we didn't get any interference from Berger and the other stockholders. But when Winter sold his stock to concentrate on getting the Vikings here, things changed.

I had made a deal during the 1955-56 season with the Celtics' Red Auerbach that would have sent Vern Mikkelsen to Boston for three Kentucky greats: Cliff Hagan, Lou Tsioropoulos and Frank Ramsey, Celtics draft choices in the Army at the time.

The plan was for the Lakers to finish last so that the great Bill Russell of the University of San Francisco would be available to draft No. 1 overall. In fact, if you read one of Russell's books, he wrote that he thought he was headed for the Lakers because my good friend Pete Newell had been talking to him about a contract and playing here.

But Mikkelsen objected to going to Boston, Lakers coach John Kundla sided with him, I had to call the deal off and that was the end of my career with the Lakers.

The club was sold in 1957 to Short and a group of local businessmen and eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1960 because the Lakers shared their home floor at the Minneapolis Auditorium and had to play games at the Minneapolis Armory and the old St. Paul Auditorium when the Minneapolis Auditorium was booked for other use.

Yes, this has been printed before, that the highest salary on the old Lakers team went to Mikan at $35,000, that Pollard was second at $12,000 and that the rest of the payroll shared what was left from a total of $70,000.

Current Lakers coach Phil Jackson is being paid $10 million this year and recently signed a two-year extension worth $24 million. Kundla's top salary as coach was $9,000.

You pay $600 to sit in the front row for a Timberwolves game at Target Center. The top price for a Minneapolis Lakers game was $2.40.

Yes, things have changed.

As for me, had we made that deal with the Celtics, Chalfen -- who owned Holiday on Ice at the time -- was ready to build his own arena here to show his ice shows and bring other attractions here.

I'm sure there would be an NBA team in Los Angeles. But the Lakers probably still would be here, and the Wolves never would have existed.

Jottings

The cost of providing the 322 scholarships for 25 men's and women's sports at the University of Minnesota was $8.9 million the last fiscal year. With the increase in tuition for next year, that figure will go up $550,000. However, the university gives the athletic department a discount on nonresident freshmen and transfers, so that increase will be $290,000 less, meaning it will be an increase of $260,000 overall.

All but nine of the 55 executive boxes set to be available in the new Twins ballpark have been sold.

Tony Brinkaus, a senior center and captain for the Gophers football team last fall, said he is going to pass up an opportunity to play pro football to save his body and get a job. But linebacker Mike Sherels has hired agent Craig Murray and has started working out hoping to get an opportunity in an NFL training camp.

Ryan Amoroso, who led the Burnsville boys' basketball team to the 2004 Class 4A title game, where the Blaze lost to Chaska and his friend Spencer Tollackson, is averaging 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds this season as a junior forward at San Diego State. Amoroso transferred to the Aztecs after two years at Marquette. He was voted Mountain West Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and he recently had 23 points and 11 rebounds in an 83-82 loss to Colorado State. ... Darren Kent, a former Eastview forward, is a junior on the Kansas State team that recently beat Kansas. He entered Wednesday averaging 14.2 minutes, 2.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Jordan Spiros, who spent two seasons as a student assistant with the Gophers football team, has been hired as a coaching intern at UCLA. Spiros, who attended Lakeville High School, will work under defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, a former Gophers cornerback.

Chad Walthall, in his first year as an assistant men's basketball coach at Iowa, led Concordia (Moorhead) to the MIAC football championship in 1990 as the starting quarterback, and he was all-conference as a junior and senior. He also served as a Cobbers basketball student assistant for two years.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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