Reusse: Pilfering team and the name: It's L.A.'s way

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2012 - 6:35 AM

Don't rule out a similiar script if the Vikings go west as well.

Neither Minneapolis Lakers president Bob Short (left) nor star Elgin Baylor were staying long in the Twin Cities after this 1960 photo. By the following season, the Lakers had moved to Los Angeles.

Photo: Don Black, Minneapolis Star file 1960

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We should remember this about those greed-is-great types who run things in Los Angeles: They have no trouble stealing your sports teams and keeping the nickname, even when it makes no sense.

Brooklyn had a baseball team in the National League from 1890 through 1957. The name was changed from the Superbas to the Trolley Dodgers in 1911. A few years later, this was shortened to the Dodgers -- still in honor of a grand New York tradition of stepping on and off trolleys and avoiding the conveyance coming down the other side of the track.

The Hollywood types came offering prime acreage near downtown L.A. in order to lure Brooklyn owner Walter O'Malley after the 1957 season. The Angelinos not only stole the team; da bums kept the nickname.

Three years later, Los Angeles tempted Bob Short, a Twin Cities businessman with an enormous appreciation for a buck, with a lease to play in the new, 16,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Short packed up his hometown team, the Minneapolis Lakers, and beat feet to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season.

Short had been a leader of a group of more than 100 business people and firms that bought the Lakers from Ben Berger for $150,000 in 1957. He became the team president and managed to get financial control of the franchise.

Short made the move to L.A., fought off a lawsuit from some of his former partners in Minnesota, and sold the Lakers to Canadian financier Jack Kent Cooke for $5 million in 1967.

OK, I didn't mind Short turning a personal investment of a few thousand bucks in 1957 into $5 million a decade later. I don't mind the fact the Lakers have played in 25 of 51 NBA Finals -- with 11 titles -- since Short moved them to Los Angeles.

What irritated me is they kept using the nickname. Los Angeles is surrounded by an ocean, by foothills and mountains, by desert and endless ribbons of asphalt carrying millions of cars every day.

They could have been the Whales. They could have been the Big Bears. They could have been the Mojaves or the Yuccas. They could have been the Commuters or the Jammers (as in traffic).

Heck, they could have been the Swallows for all we cared here in Minnesota, but the Lakers? There are more lakes within five miles of Detroit Lakes than within 50 miles of downtown Los Angeles.

We had a good thing going with the Lakers here in Minneapolis. They won a title as a new member of the National Basketball League in 1948, and won another as a new member of the Basketball Association of America in 1949.

The two leagues were merged in August 1949 and became the National Basketball Association. The NBA decided that the BAA was its forerunner and gives the Minneapolis Lakers credit only for the 1949 title.

We know that our Lakers won six titles in seven seasons, not the five that are credited by the NBA: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954.

We know that George Mikan and Jim Pollard were the constants on those championships. Mikan retired after the 1954 title, and wasn't the same when he tried a half-season comeback in 1956. Pollard was gone by then, retired in 1955.

A spoiled Minneapolis basketball audience wouldn't buy tickets to watch a loser -- especially for a team hopscotching between old arenas in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Things were gloomy in 1957 when Berger sold to Short and what eventually would become his unhappy Minnesota investors. Then, in the 1958 draft, Cincinnati selected Archie Dees, an Indiana center, with the first choice, and the Lakers took Elgin Baylor, a junior from Seattle University.

Baylor was an instant sensation. The crowds improved. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 1959.

Sadly, Short saw those L.A. dollars, with the new arena and huge potential audience, and soon Elgin was gone -- and joined in his first California season by another No. 2 selection, guard Jerry West of West Virginia.

L.A. took Baylor, landed West and, even worse, embraced a great Minnesota nickname.

Five decades later, that should be a lesson to us: Not only will those slicksters steal our football team ... they won't flinch to call themselves the Los Angeles Vikings.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon to 4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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