With the death of all-time basketball great George Mikan the other day, I began thinking that it was Mikan -- indirectly, at least -- who set the wheels in motion for there to be a Houston-UCLA Game of the Century in 1968.
A college star with DePaul in the mid-1940s and then as a pro with the Minneapolis Lakers up through the mid-1950s, Mikan made his mark in the following way, as noted in the obituary linked above:
A superstar decades before the term existed, Mikan was the first big man to dominate the sport. No one before had seen a 6-foot-10 player with his agility, competitiveness and skill.
Given that the mystique of the Game of the Century rests in good part on its match-up of big men -- UCLA's Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and UH's Elvin Hayes -- Mikan's contribution a generation earlier in demonstrating the potential dominance of the center role is unmistakable.
In fact, Mikan's contribution in defining the position extends well beyond 1968, in the eyes of one of today's leading practitioners of the low post. Shaquille O'Neal is quoted in the obituary -- with a reference to Mikan's famous uniform number -- as saying that, "Without No. 99, there is no me."