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Bigger Than The Rules
Bigger Than The Rules

How one tall kid changed the way we play basketball.

Timothy Tocher

Growing up in Joliet, Illinois, in the 1930s, George Mikan often felt everyone was staring at him. Tall and awkward, with thick glasses, he tried to hide by slumping in his seat and hunching his shoulders when he walked. But someday, everyone would know his name.

The Tall Kid

Though he was the tallest kid in the school, Mikan couldn’t always control his muscles. In gym class, he was more likely to stumble than score. Yet he loved basketball. In the privacy of his backyard, he shot at a homemade hoop whenever he was not busy with school work, chores, or piano lessons.

When he was 14, Mikan joined a local youth basketball team. He was especially good at shooting baskets. The years of piano practice had given him strong hands. But just as things were looking up, he broke his leg. He was growing so fast that the bone took six months to knit. When Mikan injured himself, he was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) tall. Half a year later, he was 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm).

By age 16, Mikan’s leg was strong again, and he made the high school basketball team. Now 6 feet 8 inches (203 cm) tall and broad-shouldered, his specialty was guarding the basket and blocking shots.

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September 2017