Dear Babe: My dad was a Minneapolis resident during the 1940s and '50s. When he passed away, he left us four playoff programs titled "Lakers News 1952-1953." Each has 56 pages. The only one signed is of the NBA Finals. They are about 8.25 inches by 10.75 inches. One red, one green, one blue and one yellow cover, which is the only one autographed. There are more than 20 signatures in pencil. The score, 96-88, is written on the score sheet at the center page. That would match the opening game of the finals against the Knicks, April 4, 1953 -- the only loss the Lakers would have in that series.
George Mikan signed on the back cover in the center. Joe Lapchick and other players signed the back as well. Other Lakers players signed their own article; Jim Pollard, Jim Holstein, John Kundla, Lew Hitch and Slater Martin signed on Hitch's page.
The Knicks' other players and coaches also appear, with Carl Braun and Harry Gallatin together on a whiskey ad. Nathaniel Clifton, Al McGuire and Connie Simmons are on the back cover. Max Winter signed under his photo and listing as G.M. of the Lakers.
-- Shane Earnest, Montgomery, Ala.
While most of today's pro-basketball fans don't realize it, the first Lakers "dynasty" was 1947-54 when the then-Minneapolis Lakers (there aren't many lakes in Los Angeles) won five NBA titles in six seasons with Mikan leading the way. He was the face of the NBA back then and put the league on the map.
Mikan was an All-America player at DePaul, leading the Blue Demons to the NIT finals twice, winning it all in 1945. In those days the NIT was as big or bigger than the NCAA championship tourney. Because of Mikan's ability to stand by the basket and swat away sure buckets, the NCAA instituted goal-tending. Playing for the Lakers, he kept on winning and was responsible for more major rules changes. Mikan forced the league to double the width of the lane from 6 feet to 12. After the Fort Wayne Pistons tried to slow down Mikan and the Lakers by stalling their way to a 19-18 win in 1950, the league instituted the 24-second shot clock.
Mikan led the league in scoring three times, was a six-time All-NBA selection and played in the first four NBA All-Star games (1951-54). He was also the first commissioner of the American Basketball Association.
However, when it comes to value, Mikan is not the key.
"I think the key is probably Lapchick, since he died so much earlier than the rest. Clifton is also desirable," said Mike Breeden, a Sports Collectors Digest columnist and autograph expert.
"The program itself would probably bring $75-$125 if it were unsigned and in nice condition. The signatures probably add another $200 to it and perhaps more."
Mike Heffner, president of www.Lelands.com auction house in New York, said: "I would value it at around $500 with the signatures. It is a pretty rare item. Early NBA signed stuff (specifically from the finals) is tough to find."
The fact that the signatures are in pencil hurts the value.
As for the other three programs, Phil Regli, www.cardsprograms.com, a longtime magazine dealer, said: "Lakers programs in nice shape go for around $95 to $100. Programs that are neatly scored -- $125 to $150. Programs that are beat up go for $25 to $40."
(Babe Waxpak is written by Bill Wagner. If you have a question for Babe Waxpak, include your full name and hometown, the card number, year and manufacturer or send a photocopy. Please do not send cards. The address is: Babe Waxpak, Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)