• Siwale Chabala

Respect the Architect

*Photo via Getty Images

The man is usually forgotten when it comes to NBA's list of greatest players of all-time. Without him, the Los Angeles Laker franchise would never be. He was probably the first player outside of a center position to be considered a “franchise" player. The aerial, acrobatic and athletic game that exists today is because of him. He’s one of the best scorers, rebounders and small forwards in the league's history but yet you don't hear too much about him during NBA Mount Rushmore debates. Do your research and Google young people; Elgin Baylor. You might learn a thing or two or three about how revolutionary Baylor was as a basketball player. YouTube the legend (don’t worry, we got you covered) and you might see a few moves out of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving’s repertoire. Baylor was one of the best overall players this game has ever seen.

In 1958, the then Minneapolis Lakers selected Elgin Baylor with the No. 1 overall pick. The Lakers were several years removed from its glory years with George Mikan. The year before Baylor arrived; the Lakers were 19-53 and desperately needed a franchise changing talent and box office attraction. Baylor was seen as the kind of player that could save a franchise, and he did. Former Minneapolis owner Bob Short was quoted in an interview, "If he (Baylor) had turned me down then, I would have been out of business. The club would have gone bankrupt.” There’s no Kareem and Magic without Baylor. There’s no Shaq and Kobe without Baylor. There’s no Los Angeles Lakers without Baylor.

Elgin Baylor showed why the Lakers talked him out of his senior year of college and to enter the NBA draft. Baylor led the last place Lakers to the Finals where they eventually lost to the mighty Boston Celtics. He averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds per game. Yeah I said 15 rebounds per game, at 6'5 that's incredible…Think about all of the 7-footers who don’t even average half in today’s game. Elgin is ranked 25th in all- time rebounding and only Charles Barkley can say that he was a shorter player on that list. During his career, Elgin Baylor was a scoring machine. He averaged 27.36 points per game for his career, third only to the great Michael Jordan and late great Wilt Chamberlain. He had dunks, pull up and turnaround jumpers, acrobatic lay ups, different spins on the ball and a post-up game; the man was unstoppable. Jerry West called him one of the most spectacular shooters the game has ever seen. Elgin still holds the record for most points scored in a Finals game with 61. Baylor once had a game of 71 points and 25 rebounds. Baylor was also an underrated passer, averaging 4.3 assists for his career. The man could do it all.

The only blemish in Baylor's illustrious career was not being able to win a championship ring. During his 13 season career spent with the Lakers, Baylor made eight Finals appearances. Unfortunately those were all losses coming in the midst of the Celtics dynasty; talk about bad timing. Elgin Baylor retired 9 games into the 1971-72 season because of his bad knees. Later that year, the Lakers set a record with 33 consecutive wins and a NBA Championship. Many fans dismiss Baylor because he didn't win a championship; that ends now. Elgin changed the game; he was a pioneer, an innovator and an inspiration to many players who inspired the current generation. Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest players to ever play basketball; it’s time we remember him as such.

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