Sid Hartman covered basketball before the Lakers existed.
Hartman covered basketball after the Lakers won their 17th championship.
Heck, he’s partially responsible for the Lakers existing.
Hartman, a Minnesota institution best known for his sports writing who also had deep NBA ties, died at age 100.
In 1947, Hartman facilitated the sale of the failed Detroit Gems to Minneapolis businessmen Ben Berger and Morris Chaflen. Hartman even hand-delivered the check to Gems owner Maurice Winston in Detroit. The team moved to Minneapolis and became the Lakers.
Though Max Winter held the title of team president, Hartman claimed he served as de facto general manager.
The Lakers got the No. 1 pick in a dispersal draft, picked George Mikan and won championships in five of their first six years in the BAA/NBA.
Hartman claimed he had a plan for keeping the Lakers on top – trading star Vern Mikkelsen and tanking for Bill Russell:
That was before the 1956 draft. We had completed a deal with Boston where Vern Mikkelsen of the Lakers would have gone to the Celtics for three Kentucky college players, Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsioropoulos, who were all in the service at Andrews Air Force Base. We would have finished in last place and would have had Russell as the No. 1 draft pick instead of him winding up with the Celtics.
Hartman, via Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times:
“If we’d have made that Russell deal,” Hartman says, “we’d have had the nucleus of another great team and Mr. [Red] Auerbach wouldn’t have had his good streak. It would have changed the whole history of the NBA if that deal had gone through.
“The Lakers never would have moved to L.A., I’ll tell you that.”
Hartman left the Lakers operation in 1957. He had made his contacts in the NBA, though. He later would make the personnel decisions for an expansion team that came to Chicago in 1961 (the Packers, then Zephyrs), then moved to Baltimore as the Bullets.
Eventually, Hartman returned his focus to sports writing.
He never quit the newspaper while with the Lakers, taking advantage of looser conflict-of-interest rules of that era – really, parameters that extended to him decades later. Hartman was one of a kind. He started in the industry as a 9-year-old delivering papers by bicycle then dropped out of high school to work for the local newspaper full-time.
Today, we lost a legend. pic.twitter.com/xpQDgdKU2Z
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 18, 2020
As did Karl Anthony-Towns:
RIP to the legend @SidHartman.
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) October 18, 2020
Hartman kept writing to the end, his final column publishing the day he died. In March, he showed unique perspective, comparing sports stoppages during coronavirus and World War II. A couple days later, he wrote about his 100th birthday:
I have followed the advice that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Even at 100 I can say I still love what I do.