Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The genuine article.
BY TIM DAVID HARVEY
(Continuing Our 'Laker Legacy' Series)
"He was one of the most spectacular shooters the game has ever known"-Jerry West, HOOP Magazine, 1992.
This forthcoming All-Star weekend is big for all of the NBA, right down to the logo. The Los Angeles Lakers are hosting the game at the STAPLES Centre and are also using the weekend to unveil their latest statue. Joining Magic, Chick, Wayne and Oscar will be Mr. Clutch himself, Jerry West. Now with all due respect, where respect is due, (http://lakeshowview.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-west-has-won.html) the Lakers had someone East of West too. Standing right next to the fire of Jerry was the ice of Elgin Baylor, one of the coldest players to ever grace a basketball court. Elg's influence has been huge. R&B superstar Ginuwine was named after the megastar. The singer even drops his latest album entitled 'Elgin' this week. How fitting.
Before, new revolutionary forwards like Pau Gasol, before Shaq and Kobe, before 'Cap and Magic, before Wilt. Before even fans chanted West's first name like Springer audiences, before even purple and gold. Straight out of Minneapolis, right to to Los Angeles, Elg was there in blue and white, with stars around his Lakers shield. Los Angeles first officer was a force, making Laker fans feel better about Mikan's retirement. Taking them higher, right before the days of the 'stilt'. After 13 years, when Elgin called it a final game, Los Angeles Times reporter Mal Florence, put it even better then the legendary Jim Murray, eulogising his career by stating that, "no man has contributed more to the success and popularity of the Lakers since they moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960 than Baylor".
Still for every Magic and Kobe, there's a Gail Goodrich and James Worthy. Los Angeles have had so many stars over the decades, and were not talking about Hollywood ones. With so much talent it's easy for some of these guys to avoid the limelight or the recognition that they truly deserve. Think about it, list your top five Laker players of all-time. Does Elgin make the cut? Well he should. Baylor isn't just the Lakers all-time rebounder (11,463). Out in California, he walked more than boards. This classic player ran the show a generation before Earvin learnt the tricks of his Magic trade.
Way before Kobe, Elgin was using his speed, wide offensive set and Basketball I.Q., to get past any defender in his way, en route back then to hanging more jump shots on opponents then anyone in the association not named Chamberlain or Robertson. Baylor took bites out of the Big Apple, making Madison Square Garden his Mecca way before Kobe's high scoring nights faded past performances away. Kobe may have dropped a cool, classic 61 points two years back, but Baylor once notched a tremendous, timeless 71 in New York. OK, so Kobe raised Baylor's all-time scoring performance silver by 10-hitting 81 against Toronto-to lie just behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 (Baylor's still the highest scoring forward). Still the point is, both these legends have been just as important to Laker legacy.
"I hear people talking about forwards today and I haven't seen many that can compare with him." Jerry West, HOOP Magazine, 1992.
Before the STAPLES Centre let Shannon Brown dunk his 6, 4 heart out, the inch higher Baylor had as much vertical, dazzling the Los Angeles crowd and other forums league wide with his athletic, acrobatic, aerial assaults. Taking it out of L.A. this guy is one of the best all-time players in the whole history of the league. At 6, 5 and 225 pounds he was affording way more rebounds then his size could spend, way before Charles Barkley made the mound. Most teams would love to have a 20 and 10, double, double machine at the 4 or the 5, but sized like a 3, Elg averaged 27.4 points 13.5 rebounds for his career (24.9 and 15 as a Rookie playing like a veteran to boot as well). That's almost 30 and 15. In fact one season Baylor brought 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds to the end of season box-score. That's Wilt numbers.
Decades before last years Boston/L.A. Finals and way before Magic and Bird helped re-vitalise the NBA and the Lakers/Celtics rivalry, Baylor and West where doing it with their own historic Boston match-ups, ensuring that arm-chair sports fans didn't adjust their sets. Amongst all these heated, historic rivalries, Baylor and West may have achieved circle digits in relation to championship rings, but they sure did win a lot of respect. Sure there was no love lost between these East and West Coast team but Elgin had his own personal Boston rivalry with all-time forward Bill Sharman. Sure they had their battles but amidst the war Shar' admired Elg. The pair played the game the way it was meant to be played and were friends, professionals, warriors, basketball purists and true sportsman.
OK, if your done with the history lesson then how about some maths? The stats speak for themselves, especially since this player recorded all these numbers in just 170 games over 13 seasons. Even injuries couldn't chill this legends place on the all-time lists. During his 14 years (all with the Lakers, now that's loyalty), he was an NBA All-Star 11 times. The Rookie Of The Year was so big from the outset in what was also the Lakers debut year in Los Angeles. He hit more than 50 points 17 times in his career and hit around 60 as much as most top players today hit 40. One of many highlights was his 1962, 61 point, 22 rebound Finals performance against Boston when Jerry West was out injured. The glass cleaner once polished off 30 rebounds against Cincinnati, just another crowning achievement for NBA royalty.
So sure Jerry West is getting his just deserves out in California this weekend, but the Lakers better make room and stone for many more Laker legends who's jerseys are already raised to the rafters. Especially Elg, as this man of the Hall needs to be monitored more by the eye of NBA history. Sure Jerry West is the logo, but Elgin Baylor is a symbol. A symbol of the birth of the Lakers out in Los Angeles and the real rise of African-American players in the NBA and the leagues popularity itself. Elgin scored big on many points, even beyond the stat-sheet. As for the respect for this loved game, just hear what the fans and the coaches alike at Elgin's rookie, 55 point performance against the Knickerbockers said and, 'Give it to Baylor'.
"Elgin Baylor should be there," Jerry West, 17th February, 2010.