Mention dynasty in an NBA conversation and people think of the Boston Celtics, who won eight championships in a row and 11 in 13 seasons from 1956-57 through 1968-69. But the league's first dynasty came much earlier, when the league was still called the Basketball Association of America and was struggling for recognition.
The Minneapolis Lakers, who had won the championship of the Midwest-based National Basketball League in 1948, entered the young league for the 1948-49 season and won five of the next six championships, including three in a row from 1951-52 through 1953-54.
The 1949-50 team, like all those Lakers squads, was focused around 6-10 George Mikan, the bespectacled center who was the game's premier inside player. Mikan was the hub of the Lakers' offense, taking passes in the pivot and passing off to cutters or wheeling to the basket to lay in short hooks and flip shots. Ably supported by Jim Pollard, one of the game's best all-around players, as well as Arnie Ferrin and Herm Schaefer, Mikan had led the Lakers to the championship the year before, but that only set the stage for what was to come.
In the summer of 1949 the Lakers added 5-9 guard Slater "Dugie" Martin from the University of Texas to be their primary playmaker and ballhandler; 6-7 Vern Mikkelsen from tiny Hamline College to be their power forward and give Mikan the rebounding support that previously was missing; and 6-1 Bob "Tiger" Harrison, a guard from Michigan, to give them backcourt defense. All three stepped right into the starting lineup and made the defending champions even stronger. They now could beat you playing any style-the slow, set-up offense that revolved around the mighty Mikan, or a fast-paced running game fueled by Martin feeding the likes of Pollard, with Mikan and Mikkelsen sweeping the boards.
Despite their strength and depth, Minneapolis did not post the best regular-season record in the 17-team league, which had absorbed the six surviving teams from the NBL prior to the start of the 1949-50 season and had changed its name from BAA to NBA. The result was an unbalanced schedule and an unruly divisional alignment that had four of the eight with winning records in the five-team Central Division, and eight teams with losing records among the 12 teams in the other two divisions. Minneapolis tied Rochester at 51-17 for first place in the Central, but the best overall mark in the league went to Syracuse, 51-13, the winner of the Eastern Division. Mikan led the league in scoring at 27.4 ppg and was fifth in field goal percentage at .407, while Pollard was ninth in scoring at 14.7 ppg and seventh in assists at 3.8 apg.
The playoffs were cumbersome, with four teams from each division qualifying, but that is where the Lakers showed their strength even though they had to play five different opponents. Minneapolis won a first-place tiebreaker over Rochester 78-76, then beat Chicago, Fort Wayne and Anderson, all by 2-0 counts, to earn a berth in the Finals. There the Lakers were matched Syracuse, and they grabbed the upper hand in the series by taking the opener on the road 68-66 on a late block by Mikan and a 40-foot game-winning basket by the rookie Harrison. Though Syracuse came back to win Game 2, the Lakers won the next two games on their home floor, and after dropping Game 5, closed out the series with a 110-95 triumph at Minneapolis Auditorium behind Mikan's 40 points. Mikan and Pollard both were voted to the All-NBA First Team.