Elgin Baylor, the Lakers’ 11-time NBA All-Star who soared through the 1960s with a high-scoring style of basketball that became the model for the modern player, died Monday. He was 86.
The Lakers announced that Baylor died of natural causes in Los Angeles with his wife, Elaine, and daughter Krystal by his side.
“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.”
With a silky-smooth jumper and fluid athleticism, Baylor played a major role in revolutionizing basketball from a ground-bound sport into an aerial show. He spent parts of 14 seasons with the Lakers in Minneapolis and Los Angeles during his Hall of Fame career, teaming with Jerry West throughout the ’60s in one of the most potent tandems in basketball history.
Baylor had an uncanny ability to hang in mid-air indefinitely, inventing shots along the way with his head bobbing. Years before Julius Erving and Michael Jordan became international superstars with their similarly acrobatic games, Baylor created the blueprint for the modern superstar.
“Elgin Baylor set the course for the modern NBA as one of the league’s first superstar players,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. ” An 11-time All-Star during his Hall of Fame career with the Lakers, Elgin produced remarkable results with his athleticism and groundbreaking style of play, including setting an NBA Finals record with 61 points in Game 5 of the 1962 championship series – a performance made all the more extraordinary by the fact that he had spent part of that season away from his team while on active duty in the Army.
“In addition to his legendary playing career, Elgin was a man of principle. He was a leading activist during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and an influential voice among his fellow players. After his retirement, Elgin remained a part of the NBA family as both a coach and an executive, imparting his wisdom to generations of NBA talent. Elgin will be deeply missed, and we send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Elaine, his family and friends.”
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.
The 6-foot-5 Baylor played in an era before significant television coverage of basketball, and little of his play was ever captured on film. His spectacular style is best remembered by those who saw it in person — including West, who once called him “one of the most spectacular shooters the world has ever seen.”
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.
Baylor became the first NBA player to surpass 70 points with a 71-point game Dec. 11, 1960, against New York. Chamberlain set the record of 100 points in 1962.