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Sun, 09.16.1934

Elgin Baylor, Basketball Player, and Coach born

Elgin Baylor

*Elgin Baylor was born on this date in 1934. He was a Black professional basketball player, coach, and executive.

Elgin Gay Baylor was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Uzziel (Lewis) and John Wesley Baylor. He began playing basketball when he was 14. Although he grew up near a D.C. city recreation center, Blacks were banned from using the facilities, and Baylor had limited access to basketball courts growing up. He had two basketball-playing brothers, Sal and Kermit.

After time at Southwest Boys Club and Brown Jr. High, Baylor was a three-time All-City player in high school. He played his first two years of high school basketball at Phelps Vocational High School in the 1951 and 1952 seasons. Public schools in Washington, D.C., were segregated at the time, so he only played against other Black high school teams. There he set his first area-scoring record of 44 points versus Cardozo H.S.

He did not perform well academically and dropped out of school (1952–53) to work in a furniture store and play basketball in the local recreational leagues. Baylor reappeared for the 1954 season as a senior playing for the recently opened all-Black Spingarn High School. The 6 ft 5 inch senior was named first-team Washington All-Metropolitan and was the first Black player named to that team. He also won the SSA's Livingstone Trophy as the area's best basketball player in 1954. He finished with a 36.1 average for his eight Inter-high Division II league games.

An inadequate scholastic record kept Baylor out of college until a friend arranged a scholarship at the College of Idaho, where he was expected to play basketball and football. After one season of playing basketball, in which he averaged 31.3 points per game, the school dismissed the head basketball coach and restricted the scholarships. A Seattle car dealer interested Baylor in Seattle University, and Baylor sat out a year to play for Westside Ford, an AAU team in Seattle, while establishing eligibility at Seattle. Baylor averaged 32.5 points per game and led Seattle University to the NCAA championship game, their only trip to the Final Four, falling to the University of Kentucky.

The Minneapolis Lakers used the No. 1 overall pick in the 1958 NBA draft to select Baylor, then convinced him to skip his senior year at SU and instead join the pro ranks. The year before Baylor's arrival, the Lakers finished 19–53 with a slow, bulky, and aging squad. Baylor, whom the Lakers signed to play for $20,000 per year (equivalent to $180,000 in 2019), was the franchise's last shot at survival.  According to Minneapolis Lakers owner Bob Short in a 1971 interview with the Los Angeles Times: "If he had turned me down then, I would have been out of business. The club would have gone bankrupt." 

As a rookie in 1958–59, Baylor finished second in the league in scoring (24.9 points per game), and third in rebounding (15.0 rebounds per game).  He won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and led the Lakers from last place the previous year to the NBA finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in the first four-game sweep in finals history, kicking off the greatest rivalry in the history of the NBA.  

Middle Years

From 1960–61 to the 1962–63 seasons, Baylor averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points per game, respectively. Baylor, a United States Army Reservist, was called to active duty during the 1961–62 season, and being stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington, he could play for the Lakers only when on a weekend pass. Despite playing only 48 games during the 1961–62 season, he still scored over 1,800 points. Baylor began hampered by knee problems during the 1963–64 season. The problems culminated in a severe knee injury suffered during the 1965 Western Division playoffs, requiring him to undergo knee surgery. While still a very powerful force, he was never quite the same, never again averaging above 30 points per game. During his career, Baylor helped lead the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times. 


Baylor played just two games in 1970–71 before rupturing his Achilles tendon and finally retired nine games into the subsequent 1971–72 season because of his nagging knee problems. The Lakers awarded Baylor a 1972 championship ring even though he had retired earlier in the season.  He was the last of the great undersized forwards in a league where many guards are now his size or bigger. He finished his playing days with 23,149 points, 3,650 assists, and 11,463 rebounds over 846 games.  The 71-points Baylor scored on November 15, 1960, was a record. 

An underrated rebounder, Baylor averaged 13.5 rebounds per game during his career, including a remarkable 19.8 rebounds per game during the 1960–61 season—a season average exceeded by only five other players in NBA history, all of whom were 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) or taller. A 10-time All-NBA First Team selection and 11-time NBA All-Star, Baylor was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was named to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team 1980 and the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996. On April 6, 2018, a statue of Baylor was unveiled at the Staples Center before a Lakers game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In 1974, Baylor was hired to be an assistant coach and later the head coach for the New Orleans Jazz, but had a lackluster 86–135 record and retired following the 1978–79 season. In 1986, Baylor was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers as the team's vice president of basketball operations. He stayed in that capacity for 22 years before reportedly resigning in October 2008 at 74. During his tenure, the Clippers managed only two winning seasons and amassed a win-loss record of 607-1153. They also won only one playoff series during this time. He was selected as the NBA Executive of the Year in 2006. That year the Clippers won their first playoff series since 1976, when the franchise was located in Buffalo, New York, and named the Buffalo Braves.

In February 2009, Baylor filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Clippers, team owner Donald Sterling, team president Andy Roeser, and the NBA. He alleged that he was underpaid during his tenure with the team and then fired because of his age and race. Baylor later dropped the racial discrimination claims in the suit. A Los Angeles state court jury rejected Baylor's remaining claims on March 30, 2011. Elgin Baylor died on March 22, 2021, at age 86, of natural causes. He was survived by his wife, Elaine, and daughter Krystle. He has a son, Alan, and a daughter, Alison, from a previous marriage.

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