Had Elgin 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 who saw one of the greatest ever to play.
"Elgin certainly didn't jump as high as Michael Jordan," Tommy Hawkins told the San Francisco Examiner. "But he had the greatest variety of shots of anyone. He would take it in and hang and shoot from all these angles. Put spin on the ball. Elgin had incredible strength. He could post up Bill Russell. He could pass likeMagic [Johnson] and dribble with the best guards in the league."
Elgin Baylor was born in 1934 in Washington, D.C., and was named for his father's favorite watch. A high school sports star, he didn't perform well academically and even dropped out for a while to work in a furniture store and to play basketball in the local recreational leagues.
Seattle car dealer Ralph Monroe interested Baylor in Seattle University, and Baylor sat out a year to play for an amateur team while establishing eligibility at Seattle.Baylor played for Seattle University in 1956-57 and 1957-58, taking the Chieftains to the 1958 NCAA Championship Game, where they lost to the Kentucky Wildcats. In his three collegiate seasons, one at Idaho and two at Seattle, Baylor averaged 31.3 points.
The Minneapolis Lakers used the No. 1 overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft to select Baylor after his junior year, then convinced him to pass up his final college season and join the pro ranks.
Two games into the 1970-71 season Baylor went down with a knee injury that all but ended his career. He missed the rest of the campaign and then returned for only nine games in 1971-72 before retiring at age 37. Ironically, later that season the Lakers won their first championship since moving to Los Angeles. Baylor had ended an illustrious 14-year career without a championship ring.
Shortly after his playing career came to a close, Baylor tried his hand at coaching. He was hired by the expansion New Orleans Jazz as an assistant coach for the team's inaugural 1974-75 season. He served two full years in that capacity before replacing Butch van Breda Kolff as head coach early in the 1976-77 campaign. Baylor guided the young Jazz for the rest of that season and for the next two seasons, compiling an 86-135 record. His teams failed to reach the playoffs and finished no better than fifth in the Central Division. Baylor stepped down after the 1978-79 season.
During his coaching stint with the Jazz, Baylor was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1980 he was named to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team, and in 1996, he was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
In April 1986, the Los Angeles Clippers hired Baylor to serve as the team's vice president of basketball operations, a position he continues to hold. After a disastrous 12-70 season in 1986-87, Baylor slowly molded his squad into a playoff contender. Los Angeles improved slightly in each of the next five seasons, peaking at 45-37 in 1991-92 and earning a playoff berth for the first time since the franchise was known as the Buffalo Braves in 1975-76.
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1977); All-NBA First Team (1959, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '67, '68, '69); Rookie of the Year (1959); 11-time NBA All-Star; All-Star co-MVP (1959).