Former Los Angeles Lakers player and Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor died on Monday at the age of 86, in which the organization described as “peacefully” and of “natural causes.”
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era – his many accolades speak to that,” Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “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.”
Baylor is among six Lakers luminaries to have a statue outside of Staples Center, including Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and former team announcer Chick Hearn. Baylor is also among 10 Lakers players to have their jersey retired, including Johnson, West, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, James Worthy, Gail Goodrich and Jamaal Wilkes. And Baylor entered the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame after winning an NBA championship (1972), posted an NBA Finals record 61 points in Game 5 of the 1961 NBA Finals against Boston, winning the league’s rookie of the year award (1959) and making 11 All-Star appearances.
This file photo shows Atlanta Hawks forward Bill Bridges (32) defending Los Angeles Lakers guard Elgin Baylor (22) at The Forum in Los Angeles. (Photo: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports)
But the Lakers often believed that Baylor remained underappreciated during his 14-year NBA career with the franchise in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
A torn Achilles tendon limited Baylor to two games in the 1970-71 season. Baylor only played nine games the following year before retiring. That marked the same season the Lakers won their first NBA championship in Los Angeles and an NBA record 33 consecutive games. Baylor then had coaching stints with the New Orleans Jazz and a front-office role with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Still, Baylor had a strong role in the Lakers’ rich history.
After they selected Baylor with their first pick in the 1958 NBA draft, the Minneapolis Lakers signed him to a $20,000 contract. Had Baylor turned down the offer, former Lakers owner Bob Short contended the franchise would have gone bankrupt. Instead the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles in 1960.
Baylor then averaged more than 30 points in three seasons and at least 20 in eight seasons. He finished his 23,149 points, 3,650 assists and 11,463 rebounds thank to a running bank shot, strong athleticism and footwork.
The Lakers said that Baylor was surrounded by his wife, Elaine, and his daughter, Krystal, during his passing. The Lakers added that his funeral services are pending.
“Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend,” Elaine Baylor said in a statement. “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.”
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