Before the Los Angeles Lakers stole the hearts of people all over the West Coast with their high-flying offenses and championship winning teams, they resided in Minnesota where they dominated an NBA that was still in its infancy. One of their star players in that era was Jim Pollard. The native from Oakland, California was known as one of the best small forwards of his day as he led the team to five NBA titles. This is his story.
Jim Pollard was born on July 19, 1922 in Oakland, California. After leading Oakland Tech High School's basketball team to three consecutive conference titles and averaging 19.8 points per game as a senior, Pollard accepted a scholarship to Stanford University. As a sophomore in 1942, he averaged 10.5 points per game as the team tore through the regular season and won the national championship. However, he was ill during the game and watched as his teammates beat Dartmouth 53-38 for the title. After that game, his time in Palo Alto was cut short due to the Second World War.
While in the Coast Guard, he played for his branch's team in Alameda, winning the Northern California championship in 1943 and the Service League championship in 1946. The Lakers took notice and after stints with a couple of amateur teams, he signed with the team in 1947.
Since their beginning in 1946, the Lakers had been building the sport's first juggernaut. By the time they signed Jim Pollard in 1947, he joined a trifecta of future Hall of Famers: center George Mikan, power forward Vern Mikkelson and shooting guard Slater Martin. After claiming the NBL championship in 1948 and the BAA championship in 1949 (both precursors to the NBA Finals) the Lakers took the 1950's by storm.
Along the way, Jim Pollard earned the respect of teammates and fans alike as he was given the nickname "the Kangaroo Kid" for his great leaping ability. He led the Lakers the first ever NBA title in 1950 by making 68.8% of his shots and averaging 13.7 points per game against the Syracuse Nationals.
Two years later, the Lakers would begin the journey to the sport's first "three-peat" by defeating the New York Knicks in back-to-back years. Pollard was sensational in those years, averaging as many as 16.4 points per game in the 1952 NBA Finals and made 78.6% of his shots in 1953. After the 1952 season, having scored 3,391 points and made 812 assists over the course of his young career, he was named the best player of the era by the Basketball Association of America.
Being recognized as one of the best of his era came with much expectation and Pollard delivered. Though he only averaged 10.9 points in the 1954 NBA Finals against the Nationals, he still made an astounding 84.6% of his shots as the Lakers won in seven games, capping off their dynasty with four NBA championships in the 1950's and cementing their status as the game's first dynasty. Jim Pollard retired the following year after collecting 2,487 rebounds, making 1,417 assists and scoring 5,762 points, He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Coaching and Later Years
After retiring in 1955, Jim Pollard immediately took the head coaching job at La Salle University, leading the Explorers to a 48-28 record over three years. Mid-way through the 1959-1960 NBA season, the Lakers made him their interim coach. He failed to prove himself to the organization as he led the team to a dismal 14-25 finish. However, the team still managed to reach the Conference Finals that year, losing to the Saint Louis Hawks in seven games. Despite Pollard's failure in Minneapolis, the newly established Chicago Packers wanted him as their first head coach. The team finished with an 18-62 record.
Jim Pollard seemed to find his stride as a coach several years later when he moved on to the ABA and the Minnesota Muskies, finishing with a 50-28 record with the organization and losing to the Pittsburgh Pipers in the Conference Finals. The organization moved to Miami and became the Floridians the following year, continuing their winning ways for one more year, losing to the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals. Pollard was fired when the team started the 1969-1970 season 5-15. He finished his coaching career with Florida Atlantic University, coaching the Owls for two years. Jim Pollard passed away on January 22, 1993 at the age of 70.