Elgin Baylor, the iconic Lakers legend and 11-time NBA All-Star, has passed away at the age of 86 due to natural causes, leaving behind a legacy that forever transformed the game of basketball. The Lakers organization announced his death, stating that Baylor’s wife, Elaine, and daughter, Krystal, were by his side during his final moments.
Baylor’s impact on the sport extended far beyond the court, as he played a pivotal role in revolutionizing basketball, turning it from a ground-bound game into a captivating aerial spectacle. Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss expressed her condolences, describing Baylor as “THE superstar of his era,” highlighting his numerous accolades and, more importantly, his integrity and commitment to service, having served as a U.S. Army soldier.
Born on September 16, 1934, in Washington D.C., Baylor’s journey to basketball stardom began at the College of Idaho before transferring to Seattle University. He led the team to their first NCAA championship game and was drafted first overall by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958, quickly earning the title of Rookie of the Year.
Baylor’s on-court prowess was unmatched, averaging 24.9 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game during his 14 seasons with the Lakers. He retired in 1971 but continued to contribute to the basketball world, taking on roles as a coach for the New Orleans Jazz and as the vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers.
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His impact resonated far beyond his playing days, earning him a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977. The NBA named him to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1980 and honored him on the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
Baylor’s influence on the game was not just statistical; it was a style that inspired future generations. Before the likes of Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, Baylor was the trailblazer, showcasing a silky-smooth jumper and fluid athleticism that mesmerized fans. Lakers great Magic Johnson paid tribute, calling him a “true class act and great man.”
Notably, Baylor was the first NBA player to surpass 70 points with a remarkable 71-point game on December 11, 1960, against New York. Despite his brilliance, he faced stiff competition during his era, with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain dominating the scene.
Baylor’s impact extended beyond the court to his executive role with the Los Angeles Clippers. However, his second career faced challenges, marked by animosity and an unsuccessful lawsuit against owner Donald Sterling and the NBA, alleging age and race discrimination.
The Lakers honored Baylor by retiring his jersey, and a bronze statue now stands outside the Staples Center, a lasting tribute to a basketball legend. Tributes from fans, fellow players, and the basketball community poured in, acknowledging Elgin Baylor’s profound contributions to the sport.
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In the words of Jeanie Buss, Baylor was not just a basketball superstar but a man of great integrity who played a pivotal role in shaping the NBA landscape. As the basketball world mourns the loss of a true legend, Elgin Baylor’s impact will continue to reverberate through the annals of basketball history.