Lakers’ legend Mikkelsen dies at 85
MINNEAPOLIS — Vern Mikkelsen, a Hall of Fame basketball player who won four NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers, has died. He was 85.
Mikkelsen died on Thursday night surrounded by family, the Los Angeles Lakers announced on Friday. He was a six-time All-Star during 10 years with the Lakers, teaming with George Mikan and Jim Pollard in a frontcourt that to this day is considered one of the best the league has ever seen.
Though he was known for his hard-nosed defense, Mikkelsen averaged 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in his career and emerged as one of the league’s first true power forwards. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
“I was a good basketball player, but I attribute greatness to those individuals who sacrifice their time, talents, and efforts for the benefit of others,” Mikkelsen wrote in the forward to “The Vern Mikkelsen Story,” which was published in 2006. “I did some of that, too, though not nearly as much as I would have liked to, looking back on it.”
Arild Verner Mikkelson was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1928 and grew up in the northern Minnesota town of Askov, about 95 miles north of Minneapolis. He played college ball at Hamline in St. Paul, at the time a basketball power that sent two other players to the Lakers as well. Mikkelsen was drafted in 1949 and helped lead the Lakers to championships in 1950 and three in a row from 1952-54.
One of the league’s original enforcers, Mikkelsen was a physical player and fouled out a record 127 times before retiring in 1959.
“He was the protector of Mikan,” said Wolves president Flip Saunders, who got to know Mikkelsen during 10 years as a coach in the organization. “He loved being around here. And he was one of the best story tellers.”
He was later the coach and general manager of the ABA’s Minnesota Pipers.
“Vern was one of the first in a long line of great Lakers players, and a key link to our franchise’s early years in Minnesota,” Lakers President Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “We appreciate his contributions to the Lakers and our legacy, and we send our condolences and best wishes to his family.”
Mikkelsen’s name hangs in the rafters at Staples Center on a banner that also is home to the retired jerseys in the organization. Mikkelsen remained a revered figure in Minnesota long after his playing days, a gracious story teller who remained close to the game long after he retired.
In his later years, Mikkelsen overcame two strokes, diabetes, prostate cancer and the death of his wife of 47 years in 2002. And he remained upbeat through it all.
“Keep on doing your best with what you have to work with, as we all have an obligation to take care of ourselves and live as long as possible, respecting each day as a great gift with the intention of sharing the simple, meaningful things of life with family, friends and our community,” Mikkelsen wrote.
He was influential in bringing the NBA back to Minnesota in the 1980s and the Timberwolves planned to hold a moment of silence to honor him on Friday night before they played the Brooklyn Nets.
“During his playing days at Hamline University and the Lakers, Vern was a dominant force on the court and one of the game’s great power forwards,” the Wolves said in a statement. “Vern was a great friend to our organization and we offer our condolences to his family.”