NEW YORK -- At the very beginning of Elgin Baylor's new memoir, "Hang Time: My Life in Basketball," co-authored with Alan Eisenstock, he writes about a flight he took with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jerry West in February 2016. As they reflected on their battles with the Boston Celtics, West said there should be a statue of Baylor outside the Staples Center.
It was hardly the first time West had made his feelings known on this subject, and it boggles the mind that he needed to. As noted in the book, former Lakers owner Bob Short told Baylor that he saved the franchise and is the reason it ever moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
There was reason to wonder if a statue would ever be in the cards, though. After all, Shaquille O'Neal, who retired 39 years before Baylor, had one unveiled last season. Giving one to Baylor would be a tacit acknowledgement that the franchise had overlooked one the most important players in its history for decades.
Last Friday, though, it happened. With Lakers greats like West, O'Neal, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- and his friend and rival Bill Russell -- in attendance, he became the 10th Laker to be honored with a statue in front of the arena. At the podium, West said Baylor was a privilege to watch and ahead of his time, adding, "Thank God this day is here. This is richly deserved."
Four days after the ceremony, the book was released. It has been quite a week for Baylor, who wrote about everything from legendary 71-point game at Madison Square Garden in 1960 -- then an NBA scoring record -- to his early encounters with racism growing up in Washington, D.C.
"When you're down, not feeling good, you know what I'm saying, you just start to play basketball," Baylor told CBS Sports. "When you do that, you forget about a lot of things going on in your life. If you wanted to escape or get away, playing basketball when things aren't going well -- at least that basketball is there. It's like medicine."
Baylor famously retired without an NBA title nine games into the 1971-72 season. Los Angeles would go on to set a still-standing NBA record with a 33-game winning streak and win a championship that season. In the book, Baylor describes the meeting with coach Bill Sharman that started with him being told he would be replaced in the starting lineup and ended with him stepping away from the game.
"Are you still good enough to play at this particular level? When you go out there and play, how are you going to play? You think about all those things," Baylor said. "I got to a point where I said, 'hey, you know, I played, I gave my best.' I didn't think I could live up to my expectations, then I retired."
One topic that is only a minor part of the memoir: Baylor's 22 years working for disgraced, racist ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The book devotes eight pages to Sterling; Baylor writes that he debated whether or not to mention him at all.
"I just said, 'Enough is enough,'" Baylor said. "I didn't want to talk about it anymore. It wasn't worth it for me."
At the NBA store in midtown Manhattan on Monday, Baylor signed copies of "Hang Time: My Life in Basketball" for fans and talked to CBS Sports. This Q&A is lightly edited and condensed for clarity and flow.
What was it like revisiting your days growing up and your playing days for this memoir?
Baylor: I really don't think about it much. Except, you know, when I have a lot of teammates, occasionally we get together and talk about the good times and things like that. But just going back and everything, it was fine. I enjoy it. I had great a career, I enjoyed the camaraderie as the players that I played with and the players that I played against. A lot of guys became very good friends even though we had to go really after each other once we got out on the basketball player.
There are so many players that I haven't seen. We get together, the Players Association, they get players -- some players, I hadn't seen since I was a rookie. You go back, you reflect. Some of them, I didn't even recognize over the years. But it's good. To go back and talk about the old times.
The Lakers and Celtics were rivals, but it's clear you have a special relationship with Bill Russell.
Baylor: See, I was a fan of Russell, watching him play in championship games when we were in college. And so, we had [the quarterfinals of the 1956 NCAA Tournament] in a place called Corvallis in Oregon. And I went to the game. And that was the first time I met Russell and we became friends.
In the NBA, we're playing against one another. And what's interesting with Russell, once you're playing against him, he's so competitive. He didn't care about friendship. He's going to foul you hard. Whatever it takes to win. And then afterwards he'll be waiting outside the dressing room, saying, "Where are we going out to eat?" After they had beaten us by 20, 30 points. So that was funny.
In the book it's clear that you didn't understand that the first time you played him.
Baylor: He totally ignored me. He didn't come out and shake hands or do anything like that. And then after the game, he's standing there.
You wrote that you gravitated toward Jerry West. What did he mean to you as a teammate?
Baylor: As a teammate, Jerry is probably, well, pretty much like Wilt [Chamberlain]: probably two of the most competitive guys I ever played against and with. It's winning -- they're just so competitive, it's just unreal. They take a loss, it's so unbelievable -- at the end of a game, Jerry would just go ballistic. Nuts. Russell was pretty much the same way. I enjoyed playing and being around guys like that.
Wilt is a fascinating character. What was it like playing with him near the end of your career?
Baylor: Wilt, you know, was a fun guy to be around. I guess a lot of people didn't think that, because, one thing about Wilt, if he didn't like you, he would tell you. He would let you know. And through his career, he told a lot of people off. It didn't go well. But hey, Wilt was a really good guy. Competitive. He was the type of guy that would give money to different places for kids and things like that.
You write that you played with flair, but you were never flashy. Can you explain the distinction?
Baylor: I never even thought about it. I just went out there and played. I never got out there and tried to be flashy or tried to embarrass another player or do anything like that. I wasn't aware of how I played, I just go out there and play and give it the best I can and just hope that in the end the results are positive.
So being as creative as you were, playing above the rim before anyone else, this stuff just happened?
Baylor: When you go out there and play, you never know how you're going to play, how it's going to go. You go out there and just play. You know how you want to play, you give it the best you can. Sometimes everything goes great. Sometimes it doesn't. It depends how you are physically. You might have an injury and you go out there and play. You never know.
You never think about how you're going to play -- the defense dictates what you're going to do. How they're guarding you, that'll tell you what you need.
Several times you mentioned that you "blocked everything out" while playing. Is this literal? How did you do it?
Baylor: I don't know, you just go out there and just ignore everything. Just go out there and play. The crowd sometimes, when you play on the road, they're going to be saying negative things to the players and everything else. You just block it out. You just go out there and play. It's easy to do. It's not that difficult to do. Some people think it is, but it's not.