The Los Angeles Lakers announced Monday afternoon the passing of Hall of Fame player Elgin Baylor, who died of natural causes at the age of 86. Baylor had a decorated career in the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year during the 1958-59 season, being an 11-time All-Star and a 10-time First Team All-NBA selection.
"Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend," Elaine Baylor, Elgin's wife, said. "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."
Baylor was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft by the Lakers, who were previously the Minneapolis Lakers. During his rookie campaign, he averaged 24.9 points, 15 rebounds and 4.1 assists and earned All-Star honors to go along with winning Rookie of the Year. Baylor's phenomenal play in his first season with the team carried the Lakers all the way to the NBA Finals, which exemplifies how impactful of a player he was, given the Lakers finished in last place the year prior to drafting him.
Jeanie Buss offered the following comments on Baylor's contributions to not only the Lakers franchise but his country.
"Elgin was THE superstar of his era - his many accolades speak to that," Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said. "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."
Shortly after the Lakers confirmed the news of Baylor's death, NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement on Elgin's life and his contributions to the game of basketball, among other things.
"Elgin Baylor set the course for the modern NBA as one of the league's first superstar players. 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."
Additionally, Baylor's former Lakers teammate, and fellow NBA legend, Jerry West, offered the following thoughts on Elgin's passing to Jorge Sedano of ESPN Los Angeles.
"I loved him as a person and shared my career with him," West replied. "Never had a teammate like him, great, great player but an even better person. Very sad day for me and his family."
Baylor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977, and a statue in his honor stands outside the Lakers' arena. For the majority of his career, he was one of the Lakers' most important players alongside Jerry West. With Baylor's impactful play, he helped lead L.A. to eight Finals appearances. Injuries hampered Baylor's career in his later years, and he retired nine games into the 1971-72 season due to lingering knee problems. When the Lakers went on to win the championship later on that season, they awarded Baylor a ring to honor his career with the franchise.
After his playing days were over, Baylor transitioned into coaching, eventually becoming the head coach of the New Orleans Jazz in 1974 and retired from coaching in 1979. He then became the vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers in 1986, a position he held for 22 years before stepping down in 2008. He was named Executive of the Year for the 2005-06 season, as the Clippers went on to win their first playoff series since 1976, back when the team was the Buffalo Braves.
Baylor played the game with some flair when he was on the court. He was a dominant scorer, an elite passer and despite being undersized for a forward during that time, he was a strong rebounder. The way he played in the 50s and 60s mirrors how some modern-day wings attack the game, which shows just how influential he was in the NBA and basketball as a whole.