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  • Writer's pictureByron Washington

LIFE, LEGACY, INSPIRATION


NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA Legend and one of the game’s greatest pioneers Elgin Gay Baylor has passed away at the age of 86 from natural causes.

Baylor was the first player drafted in the 1958 NBA Draft by the then Minneapolis Lakers and won the league’s Rookie of the Year award that very same season. Throughout his career, he accomplished a cerebral amount of success and accolades. 11 of his 14-year playing career he made the All-Star team, in 1959 he captured the NBA All-Star Game MVP award. 10 times he made NBA All-NBA First Team, for a career he averaged a double-double of 27 points and 13 rebounds per game. The Lakers retired his №22 jersey, and he has a bronze statue that stands tall right outside of the Staples Center. General Manager of the Los Angeles Clippers for 22 years.

The legacy of Elgin Baylor for whatever reason seems complicated. He’s not as celebrated as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and other stars of his era. Maybe it’s because he quite never got over the hump to deliver the Lakers a championship. The only “Superstar” player who hasn’t in team history, depending on what you view a superstar to be.

Sure he didn’t win any championships but sometimes it’s as though critics put far too much stock into what they deem to be a successful career. Baylor’s a winner not because of championships but how impactful his game was, his style of play transcends generations. From reverse layups, ability to hang or glide through the air, euro-step, a move that most people credit European basketball players for creating, all can be traced to the game’s first athletic wing player.

“It was the greatest show on Earth,” NBA legend Julius Erving said in an interview Monday. “If I had not seen him play, the ideas in my mind and even things I would dream about doing, I probably wouldn’t have dreamt about those things if I hadn’t seen him do it.“It would’ve made a huge difference in my approach to the game.”

Baylor’s impact far exceeded the court, during his playing career he served his country as a United States Army reservist and often would miss games only playing for the Lakers on the weekends. At a time where he faced harsh mistreatment, racism, and prejudice from his country, the legend conjured up some sort of love to want to protect it while potentially risking his life to do so.

He was also in a way one of the first athletes who displayed activism. There were times when the Lakers would travel that black players weren’t allowed to stay at certain hotels as their white counterparts. One time, in particular, took place in Charleston, West Virginia. Baylor was so distraught and decided to stage a protest.

The life of Elgin Gay Baylor ended on March 22, 2021. But his spirit of community, dignity, creativity, imagination, and human decency still lives on through those who admire him. His spirit will live on through those who are beginning to learn about the life he lived. While Baylor wasn’t celebrated as much as he should’ve been when he was living, may the inspiration he left behind inspire us all.

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