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A thick layer of smoke hovered above them as the Minneapolis Lakers took the court for Game 2 of the 1950 NBA Finals in Syracuse, N.Y.
When the series moved to Minnesota, the Lakers staged two games in St. Paul, because their arena in Minneapolis was booked.
No parade was held to celebrate their NBA championship. No rings were awarded. No wonder Arnie Ferrin spent most of his life believing that the NCAA and NIT titles he won with the University of Utah were far more meaningful than his two championships with the Lakers.
The 1950 championship came in the first official season of the NBA, although the league considers the last three seasons of the Basketball Association of America part of its history. Minneapolis beat a Washington team coached by Red Auerbach for the BAA title in '49. At the time, though, neither accomplishment impressed Ferrin that much.
"We really didn't understand the significance," Ferrin said. "I'm not even sure we had a party, and we obviously didn't get a ring."
His championship collection consists of a denim shirt with the "MPLS" logo and his name stitched above the pocket and a basketball signed by coach John Kundla and his 1950 teammates, presented in 2001 when he attended the unveiling of George Mikan's statue in Minneapolis.
The Utes' achievements in the '40s will live forever, and college awards and mementos dominate the trophy room in the Salt Lake City condominium he shares with his wife, Pat. Yet as Ferrin approaches his 90th birthday next month, he's just beginning to enjoy his position in pro basketball history, recognizing what the league has become. He's also eager to share his distinction with another Utah alumnus.
Golden State center Andrew Bogut can become the third former Ute to play for an NBA championship team. He would join Ferrin and Michael Doleac, a reserve center who played a total of 69 seconds for Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals.
That's not to diminish Doleac's contribution to the Heat. Yet it has been 65 years since a Utah product played a major part in a title run, which magnifies Bogut's work with the Warriors and frames Ferrin's brief, remarkable pro basketball career.
Ferrin initially was not interested in joining the Lakers, who drafted him in 1948. Only after playing in the oddly timed College All-Star Classic, joining former All-Americans in a December exhibition game vs. Minneapolis, did he consider signing with the team. Ferrin just didn't view pro basketball as a secure, financially rewarding profession and the Ogden native played only three seasons with the Lakers before getting on with his life.
That was long enough for him to win two championships, as a top-five scorer for each title team. As a late-arriving rookie in 1948-49, he quickly blended into the Lakers. He averaged 8.2 points in the playoffs and Minneapolis beat the Washington Capitols in six games in the finals, overcoming the slippery conditions in Washington's Uline Arena, caused by the melting of the ice under the court.
The following year, the hazard was in the air. The Lakers won Game 1 via Bob Harrison's 40-foot set shot, which is still featured in highlights of NBA playoff buzzer-beaters. Syracuse fans then read about Mikan being bothered by smoke in the State Fair Coliseum, so the number of cigars grew exponentially and the Nationals won Game 2.
The Lakers closed out the series by winning Games 3, 4 and 6 in the Twin Cities. The last game was marked by high scoring Lakers 110, Nats 95 and tempers, with three fights breaking out, by Ferrin's account. In one episode, Syracuse's Ed Peterson charged toward Ferrin, but pulled him away from the skirmish, wanting him to remain safe.
So ended Ferrin's championship run. In 1951, the Lakers lost to Rochester in the Western Division finals and Ferrin was off to other pursuits, including stints as general manager of the ABA's Utah Stars and as Utah's athletic director.
Other Utes including Billy McGill, Tom Chambers and Keith Van Horn would have their shots in the NBA Finals. Doleac's experience included finishing a Game 4 rout of Dallas in 2006, sharing the court in the last minute with Van Horn, his former teammate. And now it's Bogut's turn to follow Ferrin into history.
NBA champions from Utah schools
Player, school Year Finals
Arnie Ferrin, Utah 1949 Minneapolis 4, Washington 2
Arnie Ferrin, Utah 1950 Minneapolis 4, Syracuse 2
Danny Ainge, BYU 1984 Boston 4, L.A. Lakers 3
Greg Kite, BYU 1984 Boston 4, L.A. Lakers 3
Danny Ainge, BYU 1986 Boston 4, Houston 2
Greg Kite, BYU 1986 Boston 4, Houston 2
Michael Doleac, Utah 2006 Miami 4, Dallas 2