Elizabeth Benson: Elgin Baylor
There are a couple of names that come to mind when I think about underrated Lakers. Those names include George Mikan, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and Norm Nixon. However, there is one name that I keep going back to every time I think about this topic: Elgin Baylor. I believe Baylor is without a doubt the most underrated player in Lakers history and the most under-appreciated NBA player of all-time. There is one factor that keeps me going back to his name, which is that Baylor was 6’5”. Keep that in mind as I go on.
Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds during his 14-year career with the Lakers starting in Minneapolis and ending in LA. In 134 playoff games, he averaged 27.0 points and 12.9 rebounds. Once again, he was 6’5”, averaging 14 rebounds over his career. To put it in perspective, the 7’2” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 11.2 rebounds per game over his career.
In his rookie season (1958-59) Baylor finished fourth in the league in scoring (24.9 PPG), third in rebounding (15.0 RPG), and eighth in assists (4.1 APG). He had a 55-point game, which at that time was the third highest scoring game. He was named rookie of the year, an All-Star (first out of eleven), named All-Star MVP and led the Lakers to the Finals. This was his rookie season!
From 1960 through 1963, he averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points, respectively. He led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times and was a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection. Baylor was the spark that ignited the great rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics. In 1962, he was called up by the Army Reserves and was stationed in Washington, which forced him to limit his performances to only weekend games for the Lakers. During that season, he averaged 38.3 PPG, 18.6 RPG, and 4.6 APG. Crazy, right?
However, Baylor played during the time of Wilt Chamberlain’s dominance of the game, which he never was able to step out of Chamberlain’s shadow. Further, Baylor was associated with never being able to prevail over Boston in the Finals. When Jerry West joined the Lakers, Baylor was almost seen as a number two. When Chamberlain joined Baylor and West in L.A., that shadow got bigger.
Baylor played in an age where games and his flashy moves weren’t caught on camera and streamed to the television in your living room. There were no branding efforts with players with Baylor’s status like there is today, such as Nike’s marketing of Kobe Bryant. The ability to pull up highlights from Baylor’s career on YouTube as you can with Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan does not exist. Therefore, it came down to word-of-mouth stories and eyewitness accounts to spread the word of Baylor’s greatness.
Former competitor and coach of Baylor, Bill Sharman, to the Los Angeles Times at Baylor’s 1971 retirement, “I say without reservation that Elgin Baylor is the greatest cornerman who ever played pro basketball.” Jerry West told HOOP magazine in 1992, “He 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.”
Elgin Baylor may not have won a championship during his remarkable career and may no longer hold the record for most points in a game by a Laker thanks to Kobe Bryant, but if you take a look at what he accomplished in his career, you can see without a doubt that Baylor is the most underrated Laker, and most likely overall basketball player of all-time.
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