Vern Mikkelsen, NBA Hall of Fame player, dies at 85


Vern Mikkelsen, 19, Minneapolis Lakers forward, takes a shot in a 1953 game with the New York Knicks. Nat Clifton, left, and Carl Braun (4) of the Knicks defend on the shot. In the right foreground is the Lakers' Bob Harrison, with teammate Whitey Skoog in the background at right. (MATTY ZIMMERMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
November 23, 2013

Vern Mikkelsen, a Hall of Fame basketball player who won four NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s, died Nov. 21 at his home in Wayzata, Minn. He was 85.

The Los Angeles Lakers announced his death. The cause was complications from prostate cancer.

Known for his hard-nosed defense, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Mr. 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 a six-time NBA all-star and 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,” Mr. Mikkelsen wrote in “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 Oct. 21, 1928, in Parlier, Calif., and grew up in the northern Minnesota town of Askov, where his Danish immigrant father was a Lutheran minister.

Mr. Mikkelsen played college ball at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He helped lead his school to a 78-11 record during his career and to the 1949 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics small-college championship.

He was drafted by the Lakers in 1949 and helped lead the team to NBA titles in 1950 and from 1952 through 1954. Other standout players on the Minneapolis team, which relocated to Los Angeles in 1960, included Hall of Famers George Mikan, Slater Martin and Jim Pollard.

One of the league’s original enforcers, Mr. Mikkelsen was a physical player and fouled out a record 127 times before retiring in 1959.

He later was the coach and general manager of the Minnesota Pipers of the old American Basketball Association.

Mr. Mikkelsen’s name hangs in the rafters at Staples Center in Los Angeles on a banner that also is home to the retired jersey numbers in the organization. He remained a revered figure in Minnesota long after his playing days. He spent a dozen years working in public relations at Hamline, his alma mater, and operated an insurance business.

Mr. Mikkelsen was influential in bringing the NBA back to Minnesota in the 1980s, with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves launching their inaugural season in 1989.

“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 Timberwolves said in a statement.

Mr. Mikkelsen’s wife, Jean, died in 2002. Survivors include two sons and two grandchildren.

— News services and staff reports

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