The Lakers have had a somewhat inconsistent relationship with their Minneapolis history since moving to Los Angeles.
The team counts its Minneapolis titles as part of the franchise’s total, five before the move and 12 in L.A. adding up to the 17 that place the Lakers in a tie with the Celtics overall. But those five championships have collectively been listed on one banner, and none of the Minneapolis Lakers have had their jerseys retired. The accomplishments of that era are obviously central to the cumulative history of the Lakers franchise, but they haven’t been given the same recognition as what has happened in the Los Angeles days.
The Lakers aren’t alone in trying to strike this balance of reckoning with their history while celebrating L.A. The Los Angeles Dodgers also haven’t quite figured it out, as their Ring of Honor doesn’t include any Hall of Famers from the Brooklyn days.
But on Sunday, while the team was wearing its Minneapolis throwbacks, the Lakers organization finally took a step in the right direction by retiring George Mikan’s jersey, the 11th player to receive such an honor. They also introduced individual banners for each Minnesota championship so that 17 such emblems hang in Crypto.com Arena.
some fresh additions to the arena: newly designed banners and retired jerseys. it's been a long time coming for both, but especially pumped about raising the era-specific jerseys—big win for uniform nerds everywhere pic.twitter.com/jx7WpcYrGo— J Alexander Diaz (@jdeez) October 31, 2022
Mikan is a no-brainer addition to the wall of Lakers legends. A five-time champ, three-time scoring leader, six-time all-NBA first-teamer, and member of the 25th, 30th, 50th, and 75th NBA anniversary teams, Mikan’s resume stacks up with any of the other greats in Lakers history. A number of current rules — like goaltending and the shot clock — reportedly exist because of his dominance.
Mikan’s sons Mike and Patrick said that having his jersey retired was one of their father’s wishes on his deathbed in 2005. It’s something they even discussed with Dr. Jerry Buss in 2002 (via Mark Medina of NBA.com):
Mike: He said that back in 2002 when they raised the banners with the Hall of Famers and five championships. That’s when Shaq wore a Minneapolis jersey. Word got back to us that Shaq wanted to see us. I wheeled dad into the room. Then, Shaq comes in wearing the Minneapolis jersey against the Timberwolves. He throws my dad a yellow No. 34 and said, ‘Put this on; I want a picture of this for my office.’ I had dad sign six of them. I sent them to Shaq. Five pictures came back and the message said, ‘To George: Without you, there would be no me. No. 34: Shaq.’
It’s too bad Geroge Mikan wasn’t able to see his wish come true, but 12 Mikan family members were at least present when the Lakers finally debuted no. 99 in the rafters. For a franchise that prides itself on its long history of success, Mikan is where it all started. He is the beginning of a through-line of great centers who have donned the Laker jersey. The walls of Crypto.com Arena feel a little more complete with Mikan’s jersey hanging there.