Former Los Angeles Lakers forward and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor has passed away at the age of 86, the Lakers announced today. He died of natural causes and was surrounded by his wife, Elaine, and his daughter, Krystal.
“Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend,” Elaine Baylor said in a statement released by the Lakers. “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 LA Clippers.
From 1960-61 through 1962-63 he averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points, respectively. He led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times, was a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, and played in 11 NBA All-Star Games.
At one time Baylor owned records for most points in a game, in a playoff game, and in one half of a playoff game. In 1962-63, he became the first NBA player to finish in the top five in four different statistical categories — scoring, rebounding, assists, and free-throw percentage.
Because his career paralleled the succession of juggernaut Boston Celtics teams in the 1950s and 1960s, Baylor never played on a club that won an NBA Championship. His best years as a scorer coincided with Wilt Chamberlain’s peak years, and Baylor never captured a scoring title.
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era – his many accolades speak to that,” said Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said in a statement released by the Lakers. “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.”
Knee troubles began plaguing Baylor during the 1963-64 season, and many said he was never quite the same player afterward. Although he would never again average more than 30 points after 1962-63, he had five more All-Star seasons ahead and was a major scoring force for six of the next seven years, averaging at least 24 points in every season except 1965-66, when his output fell to 16.6 points per contest.
The Lakers remained a winning team throughout those years, although they were constantly overshadowed by the Celtics, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons from 1956-57 through 1968-69.
In 1965-66 Baylor’s knee problems limited him to 65 games and a 16.6 scoring average. But West (31.3 ppg), Rudy LaRusso (15.4), and Walt Hazzard (13.7) picked up the slack as the Lakers won the Western Division and advanced to the NBA Finals for the third time in four seasons. Once again they ran into the Celtics who were poised for a rout after taking a 3-1series lead. In Game 5, Baylor ripped the net for 41 points and led the Lakers to a 121-117 win in Boston. After taking Game 6, the Lakers ran out of steam as the Celtics escaped with a 95-93 Game 7 win and another title.
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.
Baylor won named NBA Executive of the Year in 2006, when the Clippers would win their first playoff series since 1976.
He resigned from his post in L.A. in October of 2008 and filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the team in February 2009, claiming he was “discriminated against and unceremoniously released from his position with the team on account of his age and his race.”
In 2011, a jury rejected his claim of age discrimination and harassment and declined to award him any damages. The racism allegations and all allegations against the league were dropped by his attorneys before that trial. Baylor was made a permanent fixture outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles in April of 2018 when the Lakers unveiled a statue of him outside the arena.
Baylor’s statue was, at the time, the sixth that decorates the front of Staples Center, joining Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Chick Hearn