Mickey Herskowitz is the dean of Houston sportswriters, and several of his previous columns have been highlighted on this blog. Mr. Herskowitz is at his best when his columns address the legends of sports, so the death earlier this week of the National Basketball Association’s first true big man — George Mikan — gave Mr. Herskowitz an opportunity to pen another strong column. Here are a couple of tidbits:
In the fall of 1949, Slater Martin was an All-America guard out of Texas, a 5-10 rookie hoping to land a spot on the roster of the Minneapolis Lakers. Mikan was a foot taller, in his fourth year and the greatest attraction in a league struggling to survive.
Martin remembers his first glimpse of the legendary center . . .
“I was just shooting at a basket from the side of the court, and he walked over to where I was and said, ‘Hey, throw me that ball, I’m going to shoot some free throws. Will you fetch ’em for me?’ I said, sure.
He was a very, very good free-throw shooter. Shot them the old way, underhanded, between his legs. He finally missed one and then he said, ‘That’s enough, you can go now.’
“He thought I was the ball boy.”
Mr. Martin goes on to describe Mr. Mikan’s playing style:
Mikan was, in Martin’s words, “a teddy bear off the court.” But he played the game without mercy. One of his victims was his brother Ed, a 6-8 center for the short-lived Chicago Stags.
“He had to guard George,” Martin said. “I felt sorry for him. After the game, we went to a tavern his parents owned. Ed was all bruised and nicked up. He had a cut over his eye, scratches on his face.
“Their folks were Croatian. His mother called him Georgie. This night she said, ‘Georgie, why you beat up your brother like that?’
“He said, ‘Mama, if you had been out there I’d have beat you up, too.'”