Elgin Baylor, the silky-smooth Lakers Hall of Famer, passes away at the age of 86 due to natural causes.
Elgin Baylor, an 11-time NBA All-Star for the Los Angeles Lakers who soared through the 1960s with a high-scoring style of basketball that became the blueprint for the modern player, passed away on Monday. He was 86 years old when he died.
Baylor died of natural causes in Los Angeles, according to the Lakers, with his wife Elaine and daughter Krystal by his side.
Baylor played a vital role in changing basketball from a ground-based sport to an airborne spectacle, thanks to his silky-smooth jumper and fluid athleticism. During his Hall of Fame career, he spent parts of 14 seasons with the Lakers in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, forming one of the most potent duos in basketball history with Jerry West in the 1960s.
In a statement announcing Baylor's death, Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said, "Elgin was THE superstar of his age — his many accolades speak to that."
Baylor's second career as a personnel executive with the struggling Los Angeles Clippers did not go as well. He worked for the Clippers from 1986 to 2008, when he left amid acrimony and an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging age and race discrimination against owner Donald Sterling and the NBA.
Baylor, who stood 6-foot-5 and played in an era before basketball was widely broadcast on television, had very little of his game captured on video. Those who witnessed his spectacular style, like West, who once described him as "one of the most spectacular shooters the world has ever seen," remember him best.
With his head bobbing, Baylor had an uncanny tendency to float in mid-air forever, inventing shots along the way. Baylor developed the blueprint for the modern celebrity years before Julius Erving and Michael Jordan became international superstars with their equally acrobatic games.
Baylor soared above most of his peers, but he never won a championship or led the NBA in scoring, owing to the fact that he played at the same time as all-ring winner Bill Russell and scoring leader Wilt Chamberlain. Baylor's career was cut short by knee injuries for most of the second half, but he was still a perennial All-Star.
West and Baylor were the first in a long line of charismatic Lakers duos, with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar winning three more championships in the 1980s before Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three more in the 2000s.
The Lakers of Baylor, on the other hand, lost six times in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics and once to the New York Knicks. Los Angeles claimed the championship in 1971-72, but only after Baylor stepped down nine games into the season.
Baylor entered the NBA as the first overall selection out of Seattle University in 1958. With a 55-point game in his Rookie-of-the-Year season and a 64-point game on Nov. 8, 1959 — then the NBA single-game record and the Lakers record for 45 years before Bryant broke it — he immediately set new superlatives for individual scoring.
With a 71-point game against New York on Dec. 11, 1960, Baylor became the first NBA player to score 70 points. In 1962, Chamberlain set a new record of 100 points.
Despite serving as an Army reservist, Baylor scored 38 points per game in 1961-62. In a playoff game against Boston in 1962, he scored 61 points, a record that stood for 24 years until Jordan broke it.
During his 14-year career, Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. In May 1977, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame after scoring 23,149 points in 846 games.
Elgin Gay Baylor was born on September 16, 1934, in Washington, D.C. His father's favorite watch, a "Elgin," inspired his name. Baylor failed academically and briefly dropped out, working in a furniture store and playing in local recreational leagues despite becoming a standout at two high schools.
Baylor enrolled at the College of Idaho on a basketball and football scholarship, but the school fired its basketball coach and cut other scholarships a year later. Baylor moved to Seattle in 1956 and played for the Seahawks from 1956 to 1958, scoring 31.3 points per game and guiding the team to the NCAA championship game in 1958, where it was defeated by coach Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats.
The Lakers were on the verge of bankruptcy the year before they convinced Baylor to quit college a year early after starting 19-53, a long way from their glory years in Minneapolis with center George Mikan in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
With his scoring and style, Baylor changed the franchise. In the 1959 playoffs, Minneapolis defeated the Detroit Pistons and the defending champion St. Louis Hawks en route to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by the nascent Celtics dynasty.
Baylor finished fourth in the league in scoring (24.9 points per game) and third in rebounding (15 per game). Rookie of the Year was a no-brainer for him.
In 1960, the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles, and Baylor became the face of their Hollywood comeback. In his first season with the Lakers, he scored 34.8 points per game, second only to Chamberlain in the league.
Jerry West arrived in 1960 from West Virginia, and the two hit it off right away, scoring 69.1 combined points per game. Because of his military service, Baylor only appeared in 48 games on weekend passes, but the Lakers nevertheless dominated the Western Conference by 11 games.
The Lakers led the series 3-2 after Baylor's 61-point effort in Game 5 of the finals, but they lost in overtime to the Celtics in Game 7 — the culmination of the Lakers' misery at Boston's hands.
In regulation, Frank Selvy missed a 10-foot jumper that would have won the game. Baylor appears poised to get Selvy's rebound in the footage, but then vanishes from view. Baylor said that Boston's Sam Jones shoved him out of bounds.
In 2000, Baylor told the Riverside Press-Enterprise, "I've always thought that was our championship."
He never came close to finding a bell.
Baylor became the first team in the NBA to rank in the top five in four different statistical categories the following season: scoring, rebounding, assists, and free-throw percentage. The Lakers made it to the finals once more, but this time they were defeated by the Celtics.
Baylor's gradual decline began with knee problems that began in the 1963-64 season. He never again scored more than 30 points per season, despite remaining a capable scorer.
Baylor's last full season was in 1968-69, and he only played sporadically after that before retiring at the age of 37 in the fall of 1971.
Baylor's post-playing career never quite lived up to his on-court brilliance.
The expansion is underway. He was hired as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Jazz's inaugural season in 1974, and he finally took over as coach during the 1976-77 season, going 86-135 in parts of three seasons. The Jazz never made the playoffs under Pete Maravich, and Baylor resigned after the 1978-79 season.
Baylor was hired as the Clippers' vice president of basketball operations in April 1986. The Clippers made the playoffs in 1992 and 1993, but for the majority of his tenure, the team was a modern model of sports ineptitude, with bad drafting, apathetic fans, and shady financial dealings.
Sterling was generally blamed for the Clippers' failures, while Baylor was praised for his tenacity but chastised for his inability to solve the team's problems.
When the club placed coach Mike Dunleavy in charge of personnel decisions in October 2008, their 22-year relationship came to an abrupt end.
In February 2009, Baylor, then 74, filed a $2 million lawsuit against the Clippers, Sterling, and the NBA, arguing that he was fired due to his age and race. Baylor also said that the Clippers underpaid him.
Baylor voluntarily resigned, according to the Clippers, who refuted the charges. In March 2011, a Los Angeles County jury unanimously ruled in favor of the Clippers, declining to pay any damages.
Baylor is survived by his wife and daughter, as well as a son and daughter from a previous marriage, Alan and Alison, and sister Gladys Baylor Barrett.