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NBA Hall of Famer Jim Pollard was ahead of his time

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Posted: Monday, June 3, 2002 10:00 pm

While many heartbroken Sacramento Kings fans will tune out the 2002 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets, Lodi's Arilee Pollard will root for the franchise that built the first dynasty in professional basketball in the late 40s and early 50s.

The Lakers, located in Minneapolis at the time, built the prototype of an NBA championship team, boasting one of the original 1-2 punches in the history of the game with Jim Pollard and George Mikan.

Pollard was born three generations too early.

pollard_jim.jpg
NBA Hall of Fame shooting guard Jim Pollard, of the Minneapolis Lakers, was part of the first dynasty in the history of professional basketball. Pollard taught math and physical education in Lodi following his professional career as a player and coach. (Courtesy photo)

Exhibiting athletic feats that were light-years ahead of his time, Pollard's hoop legacy is one for the ages. Apparently, being born ahead of his time holds its advantages, too.

Pollard, an NBA Hall of Famer nicknamed the "Kangaroo Kid" in reference to his tremendous leaping ability, lived to see his heritage of elevation develop into the modern hire-wire act - and staple - of the NBA.

During a recent tour of the Pollard home, Arilee Pollard showcased a sweatshirt that was given to her late husband with "30 Years Too Soon" printed across the front, capturing the modern skills that Pollard possessed years ahead of his time.

"It says it all when it comes to the way Jim could jump," said Pollard, who keeps her husband's legacy alive by making an annual pilgrimage to the NBA Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"Any time I get a chance to talk about Jim is a good time," she said, joking that she's still mad at her husband for not making it to their 50th anniversary in 1993 (he passed away a few months prior). "Jim was a good guy and he has left me with a tremendous legacy of not only a wonderful marriage and family, but also of his basketball days."

Former Minneapolis Lakers teammates say they witnessed the 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard do things that couldn't be explained, and as NBA pioneers, all the players recognized when Pollard made a move he had no business making.

One story centers around a badly bruised elbow. When asked about it by teammate Vern Mikkelsen, who figured the shooting guard had hit it on the backboard, Pollard informed his road roommate that his elbow hit the rim while he was soaring to the hoop.

In a 1988 interview with the News-Sentinel, Pollard said the game had changed since his days.

He remarked that the modern players are bigger, stronger, quicker, better conditioned and more serious with the millions of dollars involved in the game.

Pollard, however, never earned more than $12,000 a year in his eight-year professional career.

His road started in his hometown of Oakland, where he led Oakland Technical High School to three conference titles from 1937-40. He was selected to the All-American, All-City and All-Conference teams during a senior season that included setting a school record at the time with 139 points in seven games (19.8 ppg).

Pollard then was a two-year letterman at Stanford under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Everett Dean. In his sophomore year, he led the Cardinal through the NCAA tourney with 26 points in a 53-47 win over Rice and 17 against Colorado in a 46-35 victory in the semifinals.

However, he was unable to play in the championship game, which Stanford won 53-38 over Dartmouth. Bedridden with the flu and a sinus infection, the team-oriented Pollard had the team doctor escort him to the arena where he could only watch from the sidelines. He was named to the All-Pacific Coast first team and to the Helms Foundation All-America squad.

However, World War II interrupted his career. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served a four-year stint from 1942-46. He played with the Coast Guard team in Alameda, winning a Northern California title in 1943 and the Service League championship in 1946.

Pollard continued his amateur career playing with the San Diego Dons of the Amateur Athletic Union before sporting an Oakland Bittners uniform his second season after his military career. He led the league in scoring both years, with a high of 16.0 ppg in 1947 with the Bittners, earning him Most Valuable Player honors both years on teams that were runner-ups in the national AAU tournament. He was also selected to the AAU All-American team with Oakland.

Pollard's pro career took off the following season when he joined the Minneapolis Lakers, where he remained for the remainder of his eight-year career, winning six rings.

Pollard teamed with Mikan, the original big man, Mikkelsen, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette and coach John Kundla to form the first legacy in the history of professional basketball. Each is a member of the NBA Hall of Fame.

The Lakers won the National Basketball League championship in 1948, the Basketball Association of America title in 1949, and the NBA championship in 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954.

Pollard was selected to the first team in 1949 and 1950 and the second team in 1952 and 1954. He was a four-time NBA All-Star (1951, 1952, 1954, 1955), scoring 23 points in the 1954 game. The Basketball Association of America poll (which included star players who had played since the inception of the NBA) named him the best player of the period in 1952. In 1963, he was selected to the Top 10 All-time Pro Players by basketball writers at the time.

Pollard finished his pro career averaging 13.1 points (6,522 points) and 3.2 assists in 497 games and he grabbed 2,487 rebounds (5.0 rpg) from 1950-55 (rebounds were not tracked until the 1950 season). He did all this while playing second fiddle to Mikan. Pollard's best season with Minneapolis was in 1951-52 when he averaged 15.5 points and nine rebounds a game.

Following the title in 1955, Pollard retired and accepted the coaching position at La Salle College in Philadelphia, where he led the Explorers to a 48-28 mark in three seasons. Pollard then returned as a general manager and coach of the 1959-60 Lakers, which had relocated to Los Angeles, where he drafted "Mr. Clutch," Jerry West, whom the NBA logo of a player dribbling a ball is designed after.

He then coached the Chicago Packers for a year, before coaching the Minnesota Muskies to 50-28 mark (second in the American Basketball Association) and leading the Eastern Conference all-stars to a victory in the midseason game.

Pollard concluded his coaching career with the Miami Floridians from 1968-70 before becoming a math and physical education teacher in Lodi.

In addition to being inducted into to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1977, Pollard is also a member of the Bay Area and Stanford halls of fame.

Mikkelsen said he sees Pollard as a cross between Clyde "The Glide" Drexler and Scottie Pippen because of Pollard's smooth jumper, classy game and finesse around the basket.

In one three-year stretch, Pollard committed only 194 fouls. He also was known for his corner jumpshot in addition to his high-flying ways that laid the foundation for the high-risers like Vince Carter of today.

Arilee Pollard has witnessed the Lakers win 13 NBA titles, but she has yet to see another Jim Pollard.

With a house littered with scrapbooks, pictures and trophies of her beloved mate, Arilee Pollard might be a little biased, but who can blame her?


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