He was the first to play the game in the air. That’s where his career, his legend and his impact were – elevated, hung, floated, above all others who pressed down the neck to look at this unusual pioneer, and also for good get a look at the bottom of her sneakers.
Elgin Baylor was, in a sense, out of reach of many who made a living in basketball and even those who won the highest honors and made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Truly, it is a wonder that, within that sacred shrine, no one got the great idea of hanging his cloak a few inches higher than anyone else.
If you see the game today (fast paced, full of jerseys), Baylor’s influence is everywhere, decades after his retirement. The display, the improvisation, the double clutch – heck, the jump scene – either imported by Baylor or perfected by Baylor. He personalized the meaning of trailblazer in a game that helped shape it.
The great success of the flight was the grandeur of the atmosphere: Baylor, then Connie Hawkins, then Julius Erving, then Michael Jordan, then everyone else.
That is why his loss today is so great. Baylor died Monday at the age of 86 in Los Angeles, where he was a star for the Lakers, and later with the Clippers he became one of the first Black men to lead a team as general manager.
In fact, Baylor helped bring professional basketball to LA and saved basketball in the city. As a member of the franchise when based in Minneapolis, Baylor was the main attraction of a team that began to flow after the initial success of George Mikan ‘s time before he finally moved to Los Angeles. The Lakers had to sign the 6-foot-5 acrobatic after his draft. Bob Short, the team owner, told the Los Angeles Times: “If I had been turned down then I would have been out of work. The club would have gone bankrupt. ”
In the big city, basketball was something modern – weird, given how the Lakers are so caught up and have become a symbol of glitz and competitions – but true. The Lakers didn’t have a strong leg in the early years, but Baylor, with the help of the Hall of Fame teammate and his good friend Jerry West, changed that all.
In an interview a few years ago, while debating Baylor, West stated that Baylor was lost on the current generation. West strongly defended Baylor largely because Baylor had an easy personality. He quickly connected with West when they became twins and never began the “brand” of the league for gaining much more attention in Los Angeles.
“If you didn’t see him playing,” said West, “it was a loss to you that you were born too late. He was a great player and everything you could think of as a friend and as a team player. ”
West mocked Baylor and nicknamed him “Tweety Bird” because his voice turned loud when he shouted. The two friends shared almost everything in common but skin color. Baylor took pressure off the West in games, and vice versa. They would share dinners along the way, spend time with each other’s families, and grow up as stars together, and in fact stay with the same team for over ten years. Even when they retire, the two would often be companions, as they both lived in LA
Baylor’s style was unique for the time he played. He was picked up on the asphalt playgrounds of Washington DC, where Baylor excelled in a game that at that time began to gain the respect of Black children in the city. Also, basketball in the early 1950s was not removed from the viewing days. Baylor changed all that.
With many college basketball programs still segregated, especially in the south, Baylor made its way to the West Coast, with mostly white teammates and in an area that was partially big white and before there were mostly white fans. Although he was not the first Black player on that level, he was one of the first black superstitions, along with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, substitutes who were unlike Baylor to play near the edge. Baylor ‘s reputation, like his style, began to rise shortly after entering college; the Minneapolis Lakers selected him in the 14th round in 1956, but Baylor chose to continue his career in college.
It was an immediate NBA sensation, earning Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds, and his career began. Baylor’s career average is 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds, numbers that don’t do justice to the impact he left behind. The 6-foot-5 front was one of the few players that was not only good, but extremely attractive. His sketch was the bank photo – until then, it was the only time players used the glass for layups. Baylor used his dribble to set up the bullet, which was almost impossible to block. He also used the unknown method of “hanging,” where he would rise, wait for his defender to return to the floor, and then release the picture.
He had plenty of notable moments in games, but even among those that stand out: In 1960, Baylor topped the Knicks for the NBA record 71 points… before the 3-point line; and in the 1962 NBA finals against the Celtics, Baylor scored 61 points.
In that 1961-62 season, Baylor did his duty with the Army National Reserve and his practice time with the team was cut in half. No matter; Baylor averaged 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds in 48 games.
Baylor was quite a snake, however, in terms of competitions. It was unfortunate to take part in the Celtics’ descent in the 1960s; he and the Lakers could not control progress.
“If you haven’t seen him play, it was a loss to you that you were born too late. He was a great player and everything you could think of as a friend and as a team player. ”
– Jerry West
And then, in the 1971-72 season, Baylor’s body was hit and his knees were torn from years of jumping. He dropped nine games into that season – and eventually the Lakers set records for consecutive winners, overall winners for a season, and won the tournament a few months later.
Baylor was eventually put in charge of the Clippers, who were questionably run by Donald Sterling; Baylor sued him for employment discrimination after he was fired. Despite these issues, Baylor won Government of the Year honors in 2006 after putting together a Clippers team that won their first playoff series since 1976 – when they were Buffalo Braves.
“I have always had a great respect for the mind of Elgin basketball, the way it handled itself and the way it treated people,” West said.
In some ways, Baylor was neglected, despite his size. In addition to his retirement and bad luck getting his prime during the Celtics from the Russell era, Baylor was among the last to receive an image in front of the Staples Center. That didn’t happen until 2018. In addition to Western glory, Oscar Robertson was with Wilt and Russell for controversy over respect. Baylor was never bothered by that at the time, at least outside, although he recognized later in life that he felt forgotten at times about what he accomplished.
In a statement issued by the Clippers, where West is a councilor, West said he “loved him as a brother” and said:
“I go far beyond believing he’s gone. I will always cherish the days I spent with him as a team player. He was one of the most talented and special players this game has ever seen and he never got what he deserves for what he accomplished on the court. My first few years in the league, he cared for me like a father was a son. He nurtured me and encouraged me like no one else had during that time of my life. We shared the joy of winning and the heartbeats of the finals. He was a prince both on and off the court. There are no words to describe how I feel at the moment. “
West persuaded the Lakers to recognize Baylor as the group began turning their immortality into bronzed statues at the Staples Center. But Baylor’s leg didn’t happen until the legacies of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, West, Chick Hearn, and even Shaquille O’Neal were already in stone.
At an image reception for Baylor that came too late for many – but better late than never – West backed his friend again with emotional and heartfelt words:
“No one I know has more respect than Baylor Elgin. I’ve laughed with him, been to the depths of the ocean with him, I love him as a brother, and I still do today. This is one of the greatest men I have ever met in my life. He was the most outstanding player in the game. He was ahead of his time. There are a lot of amazing players who have played this game, but I don’t think there was anyone who put his amazing play together with the kind of person he was. It never changed. “
Shaun Powell has been covering the NBA for more than 25 years. You can send him an email here, find his archive here and continued on Twitter.
The comments on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.