Elgin Baylor had peers.
Other players soared through the air with dazzling athleticism. Other players displayed so much individual excellence that their greatness couldn’t be denied despite never winning a championship. Other players protested racism by refusing to play.
But nearly all of Baylor’s peers came in the decades after his retirement from the Lakers in 1971.
Baylor – a man ahead of his time – died today at 86.
Former Lakers player and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor passed away peacefully of natural causes today in Los Angeles at the age of 86. Baylor was surrounded by his wife, Elaine, and his daughter, Krystal.
“Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend,” said Elaine. “And like everyone else, I was in awe of his immense courage, dignity and the time he gave to all fans. At this time we ask that I and our family be allowed to mourn his passing in privacy.”
Born on Sept. 16, 1934, in Washington, D.C., Baylor played one season at the College of Idaho before transferring to Seattle University, where he led the team to their first NCAA championship game before being drafted first overall by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958. Baylor averaged 24.9 points, 15.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a rookie en route to Rookie of the Year honors. Baylor would go on to play 14 seasons for the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers, earning NBA All-Star honors 11 times with 10 First Team All-NBA appearances. After retiring from basketball in 1971, Baylor went on to serve as a coach for the New Orleans Jazz and Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era – his many accolades speak to that,” said Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss. “He was one of the few Lakers players whose career spanned from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But more importantly he was a man of great integrity, even serving his country as a U.S. Army reservist, often playing for the Lakers only during his weekend pass. He is one of the all-time Lakers greats with his No. 22 jersey retired in the rafters and his statue standing guard in front of STAPLES Center. He will always be part of the Lakers legacy. On behalf of the entire Lakers family, I’d like to send my thoughts, prayers and condolences to Elaine and the Baylor family.”
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977, Baylor’s No. 22 jersey was retired by the Lakers on Nov. 3, 1983, and a statue honoring Baylor was unveiled on April 6, 2018, at STAPLES Center.
Elgin is survived by his wife Elaine, a daughter (Krystal), a son and daughter (Alan and Alison) from a previous marriage, and a sister (Gladys Baylor Barrett).
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Baylor is one of the greatest players of all-time. He made 10 All-NBA first teams and finished top five in MVP voting seven times. Not only is he enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Baylor made the NBA’s 50 Greatest Player list in 1996.
His NBA Finals record – 0-7 with six defeats to the Celtics and one to the Knicks – leaves something to be desired. But seven conference titles is an impressive feat. After Baylor retired early in the season, the Lakers won the 1972 NBA championship and gave him a ring.
Baylor coached the New Orleans Jazz for a few seasons then worked as Clippers general manager for more than two decades. His tenure with the Clippers, like many things involving Donald Sterling, ended in a lawsuit.
But long before his coaching executive stints, Baylor made himself basketball royalty during his playing career. He was revered by his contemporaries – and future generations, for whom he set such a powerful example.