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"Mr. Basketball"

This article is more than 13 years old.

George Mikan's first pro basketball contract entitled him to sixty thousand dollars over five years and made him the highest paid player in the game's history.

He also got an additional six dollars for each field goal he scored, and three dollars for every foul shot.

It is perhaps not entirely surprising that during the last few years of his life, Mikan spent time and energy urging the National Basketball Association to extend its pension program to players of his era. Nor is it a shock that when Mikan died, his family accepted Shaquille O'Neal's offer to pay for Mikan's funeral.

Michael Schumacher's biography of George Mikan provides a sense of how the monstrous cash machine that is today's N.B.A. came into existence. Mikan himself was the young league's premier attraction, though toward the end of his life he "felt used and discarded" by the sport he'd helped create. One function of this biography will be to bring George Mikan to the attention of fans who think the N.B.A. began with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Evidence of a more significant achievement would be apparent if the N.B.A. were to suddenly become more generous in its treatment of Mikan's contemporaries.

This program aired on January 3, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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