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On This Date in Sports March 7, 1954: Raising the Game

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The NBA still in its infancy plays a regular season game as a testing ground for new rules, setting the baskets at 12-feet for a game between the Minneapolis Lakers and Milwaukee Hawks at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The game also did not stop for free throws in the first and third quarters, saving them for the end of the quarter. The Lakers would win the game 65-63.

The National Basketball Association was founded as the Basketball Association of America in 1946. It would become the NBA after merging with the National Basketball League in 1949. In those early days, the league was dominated by the Minneapolis Lakers thanks to star center George Mikan. There was a growing concern that it was too easy for big men like George Mikan who was listed at 6’10”. The NCAA was actively debating raising the height of baskets from 10-feet to 12, to help level the playing field. With this discussion going on the NBA acted first and chose a regular season Lakers game to showcase what a game with a 12-foot basket would look like.

Coached by John Kundla, the Lakers held a record of 44-24 and were looking to clinch the Western Division as they hosted the Milwaukee Hawks on a Sunday Night. The Milwaukee Hawks meanwhile were the worst team in the West, sitting at 18-48 with player-coach Red Holtzman who had taken over in the middle of the season from Andrew Levane. It was a time of experimentation for basketball who was looking for the right formula to grow the sport. Besides the higher baskets, the game would not pause for foul shots in the first and third quarters, holding all foul shots in escrow to be used between the third and the fourth quarters.

The Hawks took to the new rules early, scoring the games first six points and leading 22-15 midway through the first half. Minneapolis began to find the range and clawed their way back in the game to trail at the half, 28-26. When the third quarter began it was the Hawks that were off the mark, as they made just 3-of-15 shots from the field. Meanwhile, George Mikan who missed his first 12 shots began to find the range with a pair of early baskets to give Minneapolis the lead. When the quarter ended the Lakers led 40-34, but Milwaukee had a chance to close the gap with ten free throws while the Lakers had just five. However, the Hawks made just seven of ten while the Lakers were perfect from the stripe, with Mikan connecting on all four of his free throws. The Lakers would stretch the lead to 53-41 in the fourth quarter as the Hawks attempted a futile comeback, losing 65-63.

Reviews of the higher baskets were on a whole negative, as it did not even the playing field and in fact, made the game harder to watch. Scoring which saw teams average 79.5 points was down across the board. Milwaukee’s Bill Calhoun was the high scorer in the high basket game with 22 points, while Vern Mikkelsen led the was for Minneapolis with 17 as George Mikan finished with 12. The Lakers would go to win their third straight NBA Championship in fifth in six years. It would be their final title in Minneapolis.