Written by: Tim David Harvey
“He was one of the most spectacular shooters the game has ever known”-Jerry West, HOOP Magazine, 1992.
This years All-Star weekend was big for all of the NBA, right down to the logo. Los Angeles hosted the game at the STAPLES Center and the home-team Lakers used the weekend to unveil their latest statue. Joining Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya was Mr. Clutch himself, Jerry West. Now with all due respect, where respect is due, the Lakers had someone East of West too. Standing right next to the fire of Jerry was the ice of Elgin Baylor, one of the coldest players to ever grace a basketball court. Baylor’s influence has been huge. R&B superstar Ginuwine was even named after the megastar. The singer even dropped his latest album entitled ‘Elgin’ this year. How fitting.
Before revolutionary forwards like Pau Gasol, before Shaq and Kobe, before ‘Cap and Magic, before Wilt. Even before fans chanted West’s first name like Springer audiences, before even purple and gold. Straight out of Minneapolis, right to Los Angeles, Elg was there in blue and white, with stars around his Lakers shield. Los Angeles’ first officer was a force, making Laker fans feel better about Mikan’s retirement. Taking them higher, right before the days of the ‘Stilt’.
After 13 years, when Elgin called it a career, Los Angeles Times reporter Mal Florence, put it even better than the legendary Jim Murray, eulogizing his career by stating that, “no man has contributed more to the success and popularity of the Lakers since they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960 than Baylor”.
Still for every Magic and Kobe, there’s a Gail Goodrich and James Worthy. Los Angeles has had many stars over the decades, and we aren’t talking about Hollywood ones. With so much talent it’s easy for some of these guys to avoid the limelight or the recognition that they truly deserve. Think about it, list your top five Laker players of all-time. Does Elgin make the cut? Well he should. Baylor isn’t just the Lakers all-time rebounder (11,463), out in California, he walked more than boards. This classic player ran the show a generation before Earvin learned the tricks of his Magic trade.
Way before Kobe, Elgin was using his speed, wide offensive set and basketball I.Q. to get past any defender in his way, en route to hanging more jump shots on opponents then anyone in the association not named Chamberlain or Robertson. Baylor took bites out of the Big Apple, making Madison Square Garden his Mecca way before Kobe’s high scoring nights faded past performances away. Kobe may have dropped a cool, classic 61 points two years back, but Baylor once notched a tremendous, timeless 71 in New York. OK, so Kobe raised Baylor’s all-time scoring performance silver by 10-hitting 81 against Toronto-to lie just behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 (Baylor’s still the highest scoring forward). Still the point is, both these legends have been just as important to Laker legacy.