On Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that team legend Elgin Baylor passed away.
Out of Seattle University, Baylor became the number one overall pick in the 1958 draft. Elgin Baylor was immediately on pace for a Hall of Fame career. And almost 20 years after making his NBA debut, he reached the halls of Springfield, MA in 1977. The Hall of Famer spent his entire career with the Lakers and was with the franchise when they made the move from Minneapolis to Tinseltown.
Baylor was more than a basketball player. He was a veteran and a voice for black athletes at a time when voices were constantly silenced. But, boy, was he a baaaaad man on the court. An 11-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA first-teamer, the forward holds the fourth-highest scoring average in NBA history. The basketball community mourns the life of one of the most important basketball players of all time, so to honor his life and legacy we present some of the greatest moments in his storied and gleaming professional career.
3. 71-point Performance Against the Knicks in 1960
Baylor is largely credited with helping turn the NBA into a vertical game, using high-flying acrobatics and his infamous hanging jump shot to revolutionize how the game is played. In the ’60s, there were perhaps two other players as talented as Baylor. And though Baylor managed to lead the Lakers to the NBA finals in just his rookie season, he topped the feat during his sophomore campaign.
The 6’5″ forward showed he had more to offer. On November 15th, 1960, Baylor lit up the country’s most famous team, the New York Knicks for a then-NBA record 71 points. To our younger audience, it’s important to remember that Baylor went scorched-earth on the Knicks without a three-point line. Oh, and he added 25 boards to boot.
“I couldn’t ever ask him this question: I often wonder how he felt to see us win a championship and he only played about [nine] games [in 1971-72]"
— Chris Stone (@LAT_ChrisStone) March 22, 2021
While the best would be yet to come for Baylor, this outburst was not an anomaly during his sophomore year in the league. Baylor added five other 50+ point performances and hit the 40-point mark 16 other times. The second he touched the NBA hardwood, he was the most dominant wing scorer in the league.
2. Setting the NBA Finals Record of 61 Points in a Game
Elgin Baylor was never able to secure an NBA championship, despite reaching the final round eight times. And he retired right before the ’71-72 season, in which the Lakers would use a 33-game win streak to cannon themselves toward their first championship since 1954 and their first in Los Angeles. Knowing that he would be a detriment rather than a benefit to his team deserves credit in its own right, but nonetheless, Baylor remains a finals legend.
In the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, with the series tied 2-2, Elgin Baylor went off. Elgin ripped off 61-points in a 126-121 Lakers win, which to this day stands as an NBA record. Only Michael Jordan has ever scored more in a playoff game, 63, and needed double overtime to get there.
Elgin Baylor added 22 boards to his tour de force game while hitting 17 of 19 free throws. Though the Celtics would go on to win the series, his dynamite Game 5 remains one of the single greatest playoff performances in the history of the NBA.
1. Averaging 38-19 while on Active Duty for the Army Reserve During the 1961-62 Season
One of the most famous barbershop tales of the legend, Elgin Baylor famously split time between the National Army Reserve and the Lakers during the ’61-’62 season (the same one as the aforementioned 61-point Finals game). This meant that he wasn’t able to practice with the team during the season, had to miss games throughout the campaign, and still found the strength to embarrass grown men left and right.
He would average 38.3 PPG and 18.6 RBG en route to one of his eight All-NBA seasons. Elgin Baylor was the most dominant wing presence in the league, bar none. Dr. J before Dr. J. MJ before MJ. The man was an absolute menace when he wanted to be, and a soldier when he needed to be. Here are some of his craziest statlines from that season:
- Vs. Philadelphia on December 8, 1961: 63 Points, 31 Rebounds, 7 Assists
- Vs. St. Louis, five days later: 52 Points, 25 Rebounds, 10 Assists
- Vs. Cincinnati, January 25, 1962: 39 Points and 27 Rebounds
Like I said, outright embarrassing dudes while serving his country. And he wasn’t doing this in the era of where NBA players were part-time plumbers. Elgin Baylor was torching the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Bob Pettit.
There’s a saying in NBA circles that always seems to ring true: Before there was MJ, there was Elgin Baylor. He was a pioneer in the evolution of basketball.