Story of the Week
Elgin Baylor was the first basketball- playing acrobat I ever saw. He was a phenomenal player, and very exciting to watch. Had 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, so among the only records of his prowess that remain are the words of those of us who saw one of the greatest ever to play the game.
In 1957-58, Baylor led Seattle University to the NCAA championship game, and was the tournament MVP. He was the 1959 NBA Rookie of the Year for the Minneapolis Lakers, averaging 24.9 points per game. The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960. Baylor averaged 30 points or more three times during his career, and became the first player in NBA history to score over 70 points in a game.
Strong and graceful at 6’5" tall and 225 pounds, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points per game during his 14-year career with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers. His per-game scoring average was, and still is, so impressive. Not shabby either is his career .780 free throw shooting percentage.
But the part of his game that has always amazed me is the fact that Baylor, at just 6’5" tall, was able to average an incredible 13.5 rebounds per game. He was a forward, and invariably was forced to match-up against much taller players. Those mismatches obviously did not hinder him.
Because his career paralleled the success of juggernaut Boston Celtics teams in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Baylor never played on a club that won the NBA championship. His best years as a scorer coincided with the peak years of Wilt Chamberlain, and Baylor never captured a scoring title.
However, Tommy Hawkins, Baylor’s teammate for six seasons in L.A., was quite accurate when he told the San Francisco Examiner that "Elgin had the greatest variety of shots of anyone. He was able to hang in mid-air and shoot from any angle. He had acrobatic body control. And his great strength allowed him to post-up against the biggest players on the opposition."
Knee injuries took their toll, and Baylor, at age 37, retired several games into the 1971-1972 season. Ironically, later that season the Lakers won their first championship since moving to L.A. Elgin Baylor had ended an illustrious 14-year career without a championship ring.
As you would expect, Baylor is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And in 1996, he was named to the NBA 50th. Anniversary All-Time Team.
Last Week’s Trivia
What member of the Cleveland Browns had his number retired by the team although he never played a game for them? Ernie Davis, the great Syracuse U. running back, won the Heisman Trophy in 1961. He died in 1963 of leukemia at age 23 before he ever played in the NFL.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the only NBA player to be league MVP two straight years while playing for a different team each year? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.