This day in sports: George Mikan leads Minneapolis Lakers to earn team’s first finals title in 1949

Sports

(AP Photo/Ed Maloney)

This day in sports history: April 13, 1949

The Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) lost 77-56 in game six of the finals to the Minneapolis Lakers. The Lakers, lead by “Mr. Basketball” George Mikan, scored 29 points in the effort that pushed Minneapolis to their first title.

The Lakers breezed through the western division playoffs, sweeping the Chicago Stags in the semifinals, and then sweeping the Rochester Royals in the division finals, who they finished one game behind in the regular season.

Minneapolis would jump out to a 3-0 series lead against the Capitols in the league finals, taking Game 1 by a final of 88-84, Game 2 76-62, and Game 3 94-74. The first two games were played at Minneapolis Auditorium, the third game in Washington at Uline Arena.

George Mikan (99) center of the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball League takes a rebound in last night’s basketball game with the Washington Capitols January 31, 1949. Also up for the ball is guard Herman Schaefer (10). At right is forward Jim Pollard and behind him forward Tony Jaros. The Lakers won 84-79 with Mikan scoring 48 points to establish a new NBL record. (AP Photo)

Washington, lead by legendary coach Red Auerbach, easily advanced to the Eastern Division finals after taking both games of the semifinals against the Philadelphia Warriors. In the division finals, the Capitols defeated the New York Knicks, taking the that series two games to one.

After losing the first three games of the finals to the Lakers, Washington would bounce back in Game 4 to earn their first win of the series 83-71. Mikan broke his wrist in that game but still played in Game 5. Cast and all, Mikan contributed 22 points in that game, but the Capitols would get their second victory and final victory of the series 74-66.

Later that year, the BAA and the National Basketball League (NBL) would combine to create the National Basketball Association.

The Lakers once again found themselves in the finals (the first NBA finals) that next season facing the Syracuse Nationals, the present day Philadelphia 76ers. Minneapolis would win the first NBA title in six games, and a dynasty was born. The Lakers won four of the first five NBA titles, the last one in 1954, once against defeating the Nationals. The team made it back to the finals in 1959, losing to the rivaled Boston Celtics before relocating to Los Angels the next year to become to Los Angeles Lakers.

Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a slam dunk and two points against the New York Knicks in the NBA Playoff Game, Sunday, May 7, 1972 at the Forum in Inglewood, Cal. Jerry Lucas (32) and Walt Frazier of the Knicks and Gail Goodrich, background, of the Lakers watch the big man score. (AP Photo)

It took 12 years for the team to win a title in their new city, and in 1972 the Los Angeles Lakers, headlined by NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillian, and Happy Hairston, became NBA Champions for the first time, defeating the Knicks in five games. That season, the Lakers set a league record, finishing the regular season with a 69-13, a record that would stand for 24 seasons before the 1995-96 Bulls went 72-10.

The Lakers, named from the team’s Minnesota roots “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” has since gone onto to win 10 more NBA titles to total 16, making them the second most winning franchise, one title behind the Boston Celtics (17).

References: LA Times, BasketballReference.com, Britannica, NBA.com

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