Elgin Baylor is arguably the most forgotten about superstar in the history of the NBA. Maybe it was the fact that he never won an NBA Championship due to the Bill Russell-led Celtics dynasty, but Baylor is often overlooked when it comes to the greatest players the NBA has ever seen.
With career averages of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds as a 6-5 small forward, Baylor was truly one of a kind. His combination of athleticism and shooting ability was unheard of at the time and his dominant play showed how unstoppable he was.
Lakers Nation decided to look back at Elgin Baylor’s top five Laker moments:
5. Baylor Posterizes Bill Russell In 1968 NBA Finals
Elgin Baylor made eight NBA Finals appearances in his career. The first seven of those appearances were all against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics with the Celtics winning each matchup. Despite the results, Baylor had many impressive moments and this was one of the best.
Baylor, considered the first truly great athlete and high flyer in the NBA, rose over top of one of the greatest defenders in NBA history for a huge slam. Despite not being able to overtake the Celtics, this moment showed Baylor’s athleticism and high flying ability during an era where that didn’t exist.
4. Baylor Wins 1959 NBA Rookie Of The Year Award
Baylor almost literally saved the Minneapolis Lakers franchise when he came on board in the 1958-59 season. Coming off a 19-53 season and being close to going bankrupt the Lakers desperately needed Baylor to change the fortunes of the team and he delivered.
Baylor would finish fourth in the NBA in scoring (24.9 PPG), third in rebounds (15.0 rpg), and eighth in assists (4.1 apg) while taking the Lakers from the worst record in the NBA the previous season, to the NBA Finals where they were defeated by the Boston Celtics.
The numbers themselves are amazing, but the fact that he did this as a rookie, while leading a last place team to the NBA Finals, is a feat that very few players in the history of the NBA could pull off.
3. Baylor Scores NBA Record 71 Points vs. Knicks
Baylor was beyond impressive as a rookie, but in his second year he did something only four other players have ever done when he scored a then-NBA Record 71 points in a 121-108 victory against the New York Knicks. We all remember Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game, made more impressive because he was a wing player, but Kobe made seven 3-pointers in his game. There was no 3-point line in in 1960.
Baylor’s 71 point game goes down as one of the most impressive scoring feats ever. He didn’t tower over everyone else the way Wilt Chamberlain did. Baylor shot 28-48 from the field and 15-18 from the free throw line in setting the record. Since then only Kobe, Wilt, David Robinson, and David Thompson have matched that feat. But Baylor was the first, and there is never anything like the original.
2. Baylor’s Historic 1961-62 season
The story of this season was already featured more prominently on this site. For those unaware of the specifics, Baylor averaged 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds that season. Impressive numbers for any player in any era, but Baylor only played in 48 games that season, however, he was not injured.
Baylor was an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve, thus he was only able to play for the Lakers when he had a weekend pass. That’s right, Baylor was basically a part-time basketball player, unable to practice with the team at all during the season, and averaged nearly 40 points and 20 rebounds.
This was well before first-class flights and private jets, so Baylor was flying to wherever the Lakers were playing that weekend on a small, cramped plane and dominating everyone. Combine that with the racial issues prevalent in America at the time and it is obvious that Baylor’s resolve, determination, and focus were on another planet from anyone else. When talking about the most impressive NBA single seasons, this is at or near the top of the list.
1. Elgin Baylor Scores NBA Finals Record 61 Points
That Baylor 1961-62 season is legendary, but you are always expected to step your game up on the biggest stage and Baylor did just that in the 1962 NBA Finals. In Game 5 against the Celtics, Baylor would score a still-standing NBA Finals Record 61 points.
We laud players for scoring 20-30 points in a Finals game these days. Baylor doubled that effort against one of, if not the, greatest dynasty the NBA has ever seen. Baylor’s prolific scoring exploits would be great on any stage, but on the largest basketball stage in the world it takes a different level of skill and determination. Baylor wanted to prove that he was the best in the world and this performance went a long way towards solidifying that.
Most people probably wouldn’t guess Baylor has this record if you gave them five tries, and that is a shame. Baylor should no longer be forgotten amongst NBA greats and all of these moments show why he is a legend.