Minnesota lost one of its basketball legends yesterday with the passing of Slater Martin. He played decades before I was born, but I remember my dad talking a lot about seeing him face off against Bob Cousy, so I emailed him to describe Martin and his Lakers for those of us who don’t know what kind of player he was and what kind of basketball was played in Minneapolis in the 50′s.
What do I remember about Slater “Dugie” Martin? He came from the University of Texas and was a terrific 5’10″ guard on four of the five Minneapolis Laker championship teams. He then won a championship with the St. Louis Hawks. My favorite player in the 1950s was fancy Boston Celtics playmaker Bob Cousy. But Martin’s great defense drove Cousy nuts. Martin seemed to hold the edge but both were terrific ball handlers. In about 1959, the Lakers were playing their final season in Minneapolis. The venue was the armory near the Metrodome. I sat in the front row under the basket. Now a Hawk, Martin had lost a step but would slow down an opponent by grabbing his jersey. The game was extremely physical back then. To dunk would risk being undercut.
There seemed to be some negative racial attitudes, as well. The Hawks’ Cliff Hagan, who had played college ball for the all-white Kentucky teams of Coach Rupp, squared off directly in front of me against Laker rookie Elgin Baylor, a black man. I had never witnessed a fist fight in a basketball game. They obviously didn’t like each other. Neither player was ejected. Slater “Dugie” Martin will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive guards in NBA history, winning five NBA championships. With the Lakers, he played with one of the best front courts in basketball history — the greatest player of that half century from DePaul University, George Mikan; “The Kangaroo Kid” from Stanford University, Jim Pollard; and the tenacious defender brought in to protect Mikan, from Hamline University, Vern Mikkelson. With the Hawks, Martin played with wonderful players, as well, including Bob Pettit, former Laker Clyde Lovellette, and Cliff Hagan.
For more, the New York Times ran a nice story about Martin.