American basketball player
He never played a championship team or won a scoring title; he played well before the made-for-video era and disdained self-promotion. But teammates, opponents and longtime observers of the game eagerly proclaim forward Elgin Baylor as one of pro basketball's greats.
Baylor was an All-NBA First Team choice 10 times in his career, and he participated in 11 All-Star games, sharing the MVP award in the 1959 classic with Bob Pettit of St. Louis. In his 14 NBA seasons, he scored 23,149 points, averaging 27.4 per game. Baylor also had 11,463 rebounds and 3,650 assists.
Named after Watch
Baylor was born in Washington, D.C., and named Elgin after the watch his father, John, was looking at the
moment Baylor was born. He didn't play basketball until about age 14, but as a senior at the all-black Spingarn High School in Washington, he became the first African-American named to the all-metropolitan team.
Baylor struggled academically, however, and enrolled at the College of Idaho on a football scholarship. He played no football there, but averaged 31.3 points per game in basketball and transferred to Seattle University, at the urging of Seattle auto dealer Ralph Monroe. College transfer rules required him to sit out one year. When Baylor returned to the court, he led the country in rebound point (20.3 per game) and earned a second-team All-America status. One year later, he was a first-team All-American as the Chieftains (now the Redhawks) reached the NCAA championship game, losing to Kentucky 84-72 in the final. Baylor scored 25 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, but the game was a lost. However, he did achieved a rarity in the NCAA tournament when he became one of the few players on a non-winning championship team to receive the most outstanding player award.
Baylor left after his junior season when the Minneapolis Lakers made Baylor their first overall draft choice; they signed him in 1958. The Lakers, led by Hall of Famer George Mikan , had been the league's first dynasty, winning five championships in six years from 1949-1954, but had fallen on hard times, financially as well as in the standings. Its record in 1957-58 was 19-53. Season ticket sales spiked when Minneapolis signed Baylor for $20,000, a hefty sum at the time. "If he had turned me down, I'd have been out of business," owner Bob Short said. "The club would have been bankrupt."
Baylor made an impact immediately, earning the Rookie of the Year while leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals. Boston won the series in four straight games. Baylor averaged 24.9 points per game, fourth in the league and ranked third in rebounds (15). Minneapolis won 14 games more than the previous season. One year later, the team's last in Minnesota, he set an NBA record with a 64-point game, which he broke the next season with 71 against the New York Knicks. It stood as the league record until Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 in 1962.
Off to Los Angeles
When the Lakers started the 1960-61 season in Los Angeles, Jerry West joined Baylor and the two would form a potent, outside-inside tandem. Baylor averaged about 35 points per game during the team's first three seasons on the West Coast, including 38.3 in 1961-62. During that time, men were expected to perform military duty. Baylor missed 40 percent of his team's regular-season games in the 1960-61 season because of military service. "For most of his career, Baylor was the team leader off the court," Larry Schwartz wrote on the Web site ESPN.com. "He was the focus of most conversations. He was the one who began discussions, turned them joyfully into arguments and then made the final judgment of the disputes-whether whimsical or serious. Would a lion whip a tiger? No, Baylor decided. It was Baylor who disciplined the rookies, who decided when it was time for a pre-game meal, who decided when it was time to play poker."
The Lakers dominated the Western Conference, reaching the NBA Finals eight times in 12 years. Unfortunately they lost all eight. In three of the seven championship finals in which Baylor played (he missed the 1965 championship round, having ripped his kneecap in the Western Conference final), Los Angeles came tantalizingly close to winning only to lose to Boston in the climactic seventh game by less than 4 points each game. In two of those series, Los Angeles led the best-of-7 series in games, 3-2.
Baylor, nicknamed the "Big E," scored 61 points in Game five of the 1962 Finals in Boston Garden to spark Los Angeles to a 3-2 series advantage; it was then a single-game playoff record and remains a Finals record. But in Game seven that year, Frank Selvy missed a short jump shot at the end of regulation that would have given the Lakers the title. Boston, with the home court advantage, prevailed 110-107 in overtime. Four years later, a late Los Angeles rally fell short and the Celtics won another seventh game at home with a score of 95-93. In 1969, this time with Wilt Chamberlain joining Baylor and West, Boston won another Game seven with a score of 108-106 in Los Angeles. One year later, with the Celtics out of the way, the Lakers faced the New York Knicks in the Finals. That series went seven games as well, but in the finale, a badly injured Willis Reed hobbled onto the court unexpectedly and led New York to an easy 113-99 win. During Baylor's era, the Lakers lost six games in which they were one win short from a title.
Years later, recalling the 1962 seventh game, Baylor insisted both he and Selvy were fouled at the end of regulation. "Selvy thought Bob Cousy fouled him," Baylor said. "I thought Cousy fouled him. He took the shot from a spot where he was very proficient. Cousy said he never fouled him. I was in a position to get the offensive rebound. But somebody behind me shoved me out of bounds right into the referee. There was no foul call there, either. I looked around and saw (Bill) Russell and Sam Jones behind me."
"Some years later Baylor got a copy of the game's film and confirmed what he had suspected," the NBA.com wrote on its Web site. "Sam Jones had shoved him out of bounds, away from the rebound. Jones later joked about it with him and admitted pushing him."
|1934||Born in Washington, D.C.|
|1950-54||Attended Spingarn High School, Washington|
|1954-55||Attended College of Idaho on football scholarship; played basketball instead and averaged 31.3 points per game.|
|1955-58||Enrolled at Seattle University; played two seasons after sitting out one year due to transfer rules|
|1958||Drafted by Minneapolis Lakers; left Seattle University after junior season|
|1960||Lakers move to Los Angeles|
|1971||Retires after playing only nine games that season|
|1974||Named assistant coach of New Orleans Jazz|
|1976||Named Jazz head coach|
|1979||Resigns as Jazz head coach|
|1986||Los Angeles Clippers name him vice president of basketball operations|
|1995||Voted NBA's worst general manager by Athlon Sports Pro Basketball Edition.|
NBA Legends: Elgin Baylor
Had Elgin Baylor been born 25 years later, his acrobatic moves would have been captured on video, his name emblazoned on sneakers, and his face plastered on cereal boxes. But he played before the days of widespread television exposure. All we have now to showcase his prowess are the words of those who saw one of the greatest player that ever played basketball. Baylor's longtime teammate Jerry West told HOOP magazine in 1992 that Baylor "was one of the most spectacular shooters the game has ever known,. I hear people talking about forwards today and I haven't seen many that can compare with him."
Knee injuries and a torn Achilles' tendon plagued Baylor from the mid-sixties through the end of his career. Longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn said observing Baylor in 1965-66 "was like watching (race horse) Citation run on spavined legs." He played merely two games in 1970-71. Nine games into the 1971-72 season, Baylor announced his retirement. Ironically, the Lakers immediately reeled off a 33-game winning streak and won their first title in Los Angeles, the one Baylor had coveted. Baylor, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also named to the NBA's 35th and 50th anniversary teams.
Struggles as coach, executive
The expansion team New Orleans Jazz (now Utah) named Baylor an assistant coach in their first season in 1974. He became head coach in December 1976, replacing Butch van Breda Kolff. He left after the 1978-79 season, compiling an 86-135 record.
In 1986, Baylor became vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers, who were considered a second-fiddle to their city rival the Lakers both on and off the court, have mostly struggled, reaching the playoffs sparingly. Some NBA observers blame frugal and meddlesome owner Donald Sterling more than Baylor. "To be fair, Baylor has one of the toughest jobs in the NBA, working for the most notoriously stingy owner in the league, if not in the annals of sports. It could make anyone sensitive," Bob Laws wrote in the Santa Monica Mirror. "There's no doubt that Sterling should bear the brunt of the blame for the Clippers' ongoing woes," he explains.
Laws, however, does not spare Baylor. "But maybe it's time to take a closer look at 'Teflon' Baylor, beloved in this town for his heroics while playing for that other L.A. hoop team. The man is seemingly beyond reproach with the local media, who are happy to just blame it on Sterling. I guess this will always be a Laker town. Lucky for Elgin Baylor."
|LAL: Los Angeles Lakers; MIN: Minneapolis Lakers.|
"Because his career had paralleled the succession of the juggernaut Boston Celtics teams in the 1950s and 1960s, Baylor never played on a club that won an NBA championship," the NBA.com wrote on its Web site. "His best years as a scorer coincided with Wilt Chamberlain's peak years, and Baylor never captured a scoring title." Some of Baylor's most acrobatic moves never made film. It was well before the home video era and television coverage of the NBA was sparse during his prime. "It is possible that no forward ever performed with the offensive proficiency and flair that Elgin Baylor showed for the Lakers during the late 1950s and throughout the '60s," Schwartz wrote. "It wasn't just the number of points he scored; it was the way he got them, thrilling fans with the remarkable variety of his elegant actions."
"Celtics, Lakers Work OT to Start Rivalry." NBA.com, http/www.nba.com:/history/finals/19611962.html, (December 23, 2002).:
"Hall of Famers: Elgin Baylor." Basketball Hall of Fame Web site, http://www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/Baylor.htm (December 16, 2002).
Laws, Bob. "Clippers Beat Themselves—Again." Santa Monica Mirror, http://www.smmirror.com/volume3/issue44/clippers_beat_themselves.asp, (April 17-23, 2002).
"NBA Legends: Elgin Baylor." NBA History, http://www.nba.com/history/baylor_bio.html (December 22, 2002).
Schwartz, Larry. "Before Michael, There Was Elgin." ESPN.com, http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features (December 16, 2002).
"Sports Biographies: Baylor, Elgin." Hickok Sports http://www.hickoksports.com/biograph/baylorel.shtml (December 16, 2002).
Stevens, Joe. "Clippers' Goal: Make Playoffs." Island Valley Bulletin, www.dailybulletin.com, (October 30, 2002).
Sketch by Paul Burton
Awards and Accomplishments
|1954||Named to Washington, D.C. all-metropolitan team as a senior at Spingarn High School|
|1958||Most outstanding player of NCAA men's basketball tournament as Seattle University reaches title game, losing 84-72 to Kentucky|
|1959||NBA Rookie of the Year|
|1959||NBA All-Star Game Co-MVP with Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks|
|1960||Scored 71 points against New York Knicks|
|1962||Scored 61 points against Boston Celtics, still a record for most points in an NBA Finals game|
|1977||Enshrined in Basketball Hall of Fame|
|1980||Named to NBA's 35th Anniversary Team|
|1996||Named to NBA's 50th Anniversary Team|