NEW YORK — Slater Martin, the Hall of Fame guard whose playmaking and defensive brilliance helped take the Minneapolis Lakers to four NBA championships in the league’s first decade, died Thursday in Houston. He was 86.
His death was announced by the University of Texas, for which he starred in the 1940s.
In the era before the 24-second shot clock, the Lakers dominated pro basketball behind the NBA’s biggest attraction, center George Mikan. Their front line also featured the rugged Vern Mikkelsen and the agile Jim Pollard.
The Laker player who put everything in motion was the 5-foot-10-inch Mr. Martin, a sparkling passer and a quick and pesky defender, the archetype of today’s point guard.
Mr. Martin played for Laker teams that captured the NBA championship in 1950 and then won three consecutive titles, from 1952 to 1954. He played on his fifth NBA championship team with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958.
Mr. Martin appeared in the NBA All-Star Game every year from 1953 to 1959 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1982.
The Lakers prized Mr. Martin for his ability to defend against star guards such as the Davies-Wanzer backcourt of the Rochester Royals and the Sharman-Cousy tandem of the Boston Celtics.
‘‘All they expected of me was to hold Bob Davies or Bobby Wanzer or Bill Sharman or Bob Cousy to 12 points, and then we’d win the game,’’ Mr. Martin told Charles Salzberg in the oral history ‘‘From Set Shot to Slam Dunk’’ (1987). ‘‘If I got 6 or 8 points extra, I was home free. Besides, they found out I could pass the ball.’’
Slater Nelson Martin, sometimes known as Dugie, a boyhood nickname deriving from the ‘‘Mutt and Jeff’’ comic strip, was born Oct. 22, 1925, in Elmina, Texas, the son of a railroad stationmaster, and grew up in Houston.
He played on two Texas state championship teams at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, but he was only 5 feet 7 inches and 130 pounds, an unlikely college prospect.
He hitchhiked to Austin for a tryout at the University of Texas and made its 1943-44 basketball team, but joined the US Navy after playing in only a few games.
While serving in the Pacific during World War II, he grew to 5-foot-10.
When he returned to Texas in 1946, Mr. Martin starred as one of the team’s three quick guards known as the Orange Mice or the Mighty Mice who ran weaves until Mr. Martin or one of his teammates got open for a one-handed push shot.
Mr. Martin led Texas to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 1947, and he set a school record by scoring 49 points against Texas Christian in his senior year.
Soon after joining the Lakers in 1949, he became one of their key players.
The Lakers traded Mr. Martin to the Knicks before the 1956-57 season, but New York sent him to the Hawks in December.
While continuing to play at guard, Mr. Martin coached the Hawks for eight games that season between the head-coaching tenures of Red Holzman and Alex Hannum.
Mr. Martin teamed with Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan to bring the Hawks’ franchise its only NBA championship in 1958, a six-game victory over the Celtics.
Mr. Martin and Cousy confronted each other three times in the NBA finals during Mr. Martin’s time with the Hawks.
Cousy could take advantage of bigger guards who were not too quick, but Mr. Martin gave him trouble.
‘‘Slater was the only one I used to call for help on,’’ Cousy was once quoted as saying by NBA.com ‘‘I used to tell my big people to set picks as often as they felt like it.’’
Mr. Martin retired after the 1959-60 season, having been among the NBA’s top 10 players in assists six times while averaging 9.8 points a game. He coached the Houston Mavericks of the American Basketball Association in 1967-68 and for part of the following season.
Mr. Martin leaves his sons Slater Jr. and Jim.
The season after Mr. Martin retired, the Minneapolis Lakers were no more, having moved to Los Angeles. But in April 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers honored Mr. Martin and the other surviving stars from the Minneapolis years in a ceremony at the Staples Center.
Mr. Martin long relished the aura of the rough-and-tumble, old-time NBA.
‘‘Guys would knock you if you went into the lane,’’ he told The Houston Chronicle in 1999, remembering how rugged frontcourt players like the Fort Wayne Pistons’ Larry Foust, the Celtics’ Bob Brannum, and the Knicks’ Harry Gallatin ‘‘were mean; they killed you.’’
But Mr. Martin could dish it out when it came to someone his size, even an immense talent like Cousy, who dazzled with his dribbling.
‘‘Cousy could do all that stuff, going behind his back and everything, but of course they let him get away with palming the ball,’’ Mr. Martin said. ‘‘But he went behind his back on me, and I told him that if he did that again that I would break his nose. He didn’t do it again.’’