LOS ANGELES — Well after collecting five championships and cementing himself as one of the league’s best big men, Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan had one wish on how he wanted to be remembered.
“He said, ‘I’d like to join the rest of the greatest Lakers up in the rafters,’” Mike Mikan recalled his father saying before his passing in 2005.
George Mikan finally received his wish. The Lakers retired his No. 99 jersey before their 121-110 win over the Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday. He became the 11th player in Lakers history to have his jersey raised to the rafters, along with Kobe Bryant (8, 24), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Magic Johnson (32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33), Shaquille O’Neal (34), James Worthy (42), Jerry West (44) and Jamaal Wilkes (52).
Lakers coach Darvin Ham described Mikan as “one of the original pillars of the NBA” after cementing a Hall of Fame career that included a league MVP (1948), three scoring titles (1948-51) and four All-Star appearances (1951-54). During a pregame ceremony before Laker fans and about 12 Mikan family members, Patrick Mikan shared that O’Neal once told his father, “Without you, there would be no me.”
NBA.com later spoke to Mike and Patrick Mikan about their father, who was known as “Mr. Basketball.”
Editor’s note: The following interview has been condensed and edited.
What did the jersey retirement ceremony mean to you?
Mike: “That was one of Dad’s wishes and dreams on his deathbed. He said, ‘I’d like to join the rest of the greatest Lakers up in the rafters.’ Today we did it. The other wish was to get his family all in one space. We drifted apart, but we’re all here. I accomplished two of his final wishes. But Patrick is the one who started it.
Patrick: Linda [Rambis] and I have a 20-year relationship. She would say his number should certainly be retired and that we’re working on it. Linda said this is something that needs to be done.
Mike: I just saw Jeanie [Buss] and she pointed to her cheek, and I kissed her on the cheek.
Patrick: She had great emotion because I had brought up her dad, Dr. Buss. Dr. Buss had said, ‘Mr. Basketball – George, we’re going to have your name up by the lights.’ And here we are.
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.’
Patrick: I loved bringing that up at the ceremony. When we were in the backroom in 2002 with Shaq, he and my dad had a moment alone together. Michael goes to my dad and asked him, ‘What were you two talking about?’ My dad said, ‘You wouldn’t understand. It’s between us two centers.’”
"Because of you, there's no limits to where we can play." –@SHAQ
Tonight we raise George Mikan's jersey into the rafters. pic.twitter.com/ljJkLJEFTy
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 30, 2022
What impact did your father have on the game and other players?
Mike: My dad wasn’t prejudiced. Bill Russell spoke at his funeral. Wilt Chamberlain was a family friend.
Patrick: He always came to the house.
Mike: Shaq was close. James Worthy, we were so honored to have him at the ceremony tonight. We met him in 2002.
Patrick: James took care of Dad in 2002 when they unveiled the banners with the [Minneapolis] five championships and Hall of Famers. It was nice to hear James talk at the ceremony and talk about how George was a wonderful man. It would’ve been great if all of my dad’s teammates could be here. But at least we’re all here. Our family is here. They’re all there up in the rafters.
Mike: Someone gave me a Lakers hat [in 2002]. James was the first one to come to me to sign it for my dad. I got Jerry Buss to sign it. So did Penny Marshall and Jack Nicholson. I hoped for the new players to sign it, but I forgot to bring it for the ceremony. I was just so excited. Without Jeanie Buss, Linda Rambis and all the associates, this wouldn’t have happened.
Patrick: They really worked hard. Michael was handling logistics and going back-and-forth. Mike was my dad’s right-hand man.
Mike: I loved getting the framed jersey. I’m supposed to get the game ball. They named me honorary captain during lineup introductions. I almost fell. You don’t fully realize how big these gentlemen are. When they bumped me, I called, ‘Foul!’ I was looking for a whistle [laughs].
Patrick: Mike was also my dad’s right-hand man right up to when he got ill [in 2005]. He was with my dad every step in the way. He was out with my dad on my brother’s birthday one time at a steakhouse in Phoenix. Charles Barkley was there.
Mike: Charles walked in with a few of his buddies. I left the table and walked to the bar and asked, ‘Charles, can you surprise my dad?’ Charles said that he’d be right out. He tapped dad on the shoulder and my dad goes, ‘Charles!!” They told jokes to each other. When we were done and went to pay our bill, we found out there was no bill. Charles picked it up. It was about $600. But I said, ‘I should’ve had more dessert!’
James Worthy speaks on the life and legacy of George Mikan at his @Lakers jersey retirement ceremony. pic.twitter.com/MIAMRNq4wu
— NBA (@NBA) October 31, 2022
What was the work that went into making the ceremony happen between 2002 to now?
Mike: In 2002, we saw Dr. Buss. He said, ‘Maybe next year.’ But in 2003, there was so much going on at the time with other Hall of Famers being honored. He said, ‘We can’t do it all at once.’ Every now and then I would ask about it. But I got a call from the NBA last year that my dad during would be part of the 75th anniversary team and asked if I could represent dad at the ceremony during All-Star weekend in Cleveland. I agreed. I wore my dad’s jacket around the arena and was there for the group picture.
In front of me is Barkley, Magic, Shaq and Kareem. I was put in the second row in front of Jerry West and Bill Walton. I’m in the middle with Commissioner Adam Silver. When I walked next to any Laker, I asked, them, ‘Do you think my dad’s number should be retired?’ Everyone said, ‘Absolutely.’ I asked them to put in a good word for us. A month later, I got connected with NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum. We talked about dad’s accomplishments. Then I asked, ‘Will my dad’s number ever be retired?’ He said, “I’ll get right back to you.’ Five minutes later, I get an email that he talked to the Lakers and to stay tuned. Later, I got an email from the Lakers ahead of time that they were going to announce it on social media.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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