Did the NBA Try Out 12-Foot Rims to Handicap George Mikan?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: The NBA tried out 12-foot rims to handicap George Mikan.

George Mikan was the first truly dominant player in NBA history.

The six foot ten inch, 245 pound Mikan was practically a man amongst boys in the early days of the NBA.

Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers won the NBA title five of the first six seasons that the NBA existed (including its time as the Basketball Association of America, before it folded the National Basketball League into itself to form the NBA). The only season that the Lakers did not win, Mikan broke his leg during the playoffs!!

So the NBA was quite worried about Mikan dominating the game TOO much. They widened the lane beneath the basket from six feet to twelve feet, as Mikan was basically just hanging around the basket too much.

Eventually, his various injuries led to Mikan retiring, so the NBA no longer had to worry. Honestly, though, the 24-second shot clock likely would have diminished Mikan’s effectiveness substantially, as the lumbering Mikan would not have been as dominant in the faster paced NBA of the post-shot clock era (as Mikan was slowed down from all of his injuries).

But the NBA did not know that they would one day have a shot clock, so they kept trying new ideas. One particularly bizarre idea was tried out during an official game in March 1954 between the Milwaukee Hawks and the Lakers.

To combat Mikan’s effectiveness, the game would be played with 12-foot rims instead of 10!

The experiment did end up hampering Mikan’s field goal percentage, but the problem was that it hampered EVERYone’s field goal percentage!

The Lakers won the game 65-63, with the Lakers shooting 28 percent from the field!

After the game, the players and coaches were almost universal in their dislike for the idea. Mikan stated, “It threw the whole game out of sync and made it tougher on the smaller man. With the timing of the ball coming down from the 12-foot basket, there were more injuries under the boards.” Milwaukee guard Bob Harrison said, “It’s screwy; it’s terrible. I’ll take the old game.”

The best quote, though, was from five foot ten Laker guard Slater Martin, who advocated a six-foot rim, as it would make a Mikan out of him!

Suffice it to say, the NBA did not adopt the new rims. Interestingly enough, that game also had another experiment in it. Rather than shooting free throws at the time of the foul, the teams would compile all of their free throws and shoot them at the end of the quarter, with fouls canceling each other out (so if Milwaukee was fouled 8 times and the Lakers were fouled 6 times, Milwaukee would shoot 2 foul shots). That idea also did not catch on!

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to Stew Thornley for the great information about this strange game (especially the great quotes)!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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