Considered one of the greatest basketball players ever, Elgin Gay Baylor died of natural causes on Monday at age 86, according to a statement from the Lakers organization.
Magic Johnson paid tribute to Baylor shortly after the news broke saying in part, “Before there was Michael Jordan doing amazing things in the air, there was Elgin Baylor! A true class act and great man.”
Baylor was an 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection during his 14 seasons with the Lakers. He played for the team from 1958 to 1971. He was a Rookie of the Year as well as the All-Star Game MVP in 1958. Amazingly, the high-flying 6-foot-5-inch forward averaged a double-double for his career, posting 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. For comparison, another Lakers great, Shaquille O’Neil averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in his career.
Elgin Baylor: Forever part of our Lakers Family. pic.twitter.com/zcRhVUSSmx
Baylor was with the Lakers as they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960. During his career with the team, Baylor made eight NBA Finals appearances but never won a title. He holds the single-game Finals scoring record with 61 points against the Celtics in 1962. On November 15, 1960 Baylor scored 71 points against the New York Knicks — and that was before the three-point shot was introduced. He remains one of only six players in NBA history to have scored more than 70 points in a game and was inducted into the
Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977.
Baylor’s 27.4 points-per-game average is third-highest in NBA history behind only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. He was among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History selected in 1996 in conjunction with the league’s 50th anniversary.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 22, 2021
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era — his many accolades speak to that,” said Lakers owner Jeanie Buss in a statement. “He was one of the few Lakers players whose career spanned from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But more importantly he was a man of great integrity, even serving his country as a U.S. Army reservist, often playing for the Lakers only during his weekend pass. He is one of the all-time Lakers greats with his No. 22 jersey retired in the rafters and his statue standing guard in front of STAPLES Center. He will always be part of the Lakers legacy. On behalf of the entire Lakers family, I’d like to send my thoughts, prayers and condolences to Elaine and the Baylor family.”
Lakers legend Magic Johnson shared his thoughts on Twitter saying, “RIP to the NBA’s first high flyer, Lakers Legend, & Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. Before there was Michael Jordan doing amazing things in the air, there was Elgin Baylor! A true class act and great man, I’ll always appreciate the advice he shared with me when I first came into the league. Cookie and I are praying for his wife Elaine, kids, and the entire Baylor family.”
RIP to the NBA’s first high flyer, Lakers Legend, & Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. Before there was Michael Jordan doing amazing things in the air, there was Elgin Baylor! A true class act and great man, I’ll always appreciate the advice he shared with me when I first came into the pic.twitter.com/khPRc73gqW
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 22, 2021
Kobe Bryant once broke down Baylor’s game via a film session with ESPN, singling out the Hall-of-Famer’s footwork as a key reason for his scoring greatness. Given Bryant’s own brilliant footwork, it is high praise.
Kobe on Elgin Baylor’s game pic.twitter.com/UZFIHb4dzu
— Kobe Bryant Lakers Murals (@kobemurals) March 22, 2021
After he retired from playing, Baylor was a coach for the (then) New Orleans Jazz. He later spent 22 years as general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers where he won the NBA Executive of the Year Award in 2006 when the franchise advanced through its first playoff series in three decades. Two years later he was relieved of his duties by the team’s infamous owner Donald Sterling.
In February 2009, Baylor filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Clippers organization, Donald Sterling, team president Andy Roeser and the NBA. He alleged that he was underpaid during his tenure with the team and subsequently fired because of his age and race.
Baylor later dropped the racial discrimination claims in the suit. His remaining claims were rejected by a Los Angeles state court jury in March 2011. In April 2014, Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after private recordings of his racist comments surfaced publicly.
Baylor wore number 22 for the Lakers, and his jersey was retired by the Lakers and hangs in the Staples Center rafters next to those of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and other legends. In 2018, Baylor became one of only 10 L.A. sports greats honored with a statue outside the venue.
“I appreciate all the wonderful things people have said about me, but without the wonderful teammates this certainly would not have been possible,” Baylor said at his statue ceremony. “After about six decades of being around the NBA, I stand here before you today humbled, thankful, grateful for this recognition.”
The Lakers great was surrounded by his wife Elaine and daughter Krystal when he passed.
“Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend,” said Elaine Baylor. “And like everyone else, I was in awe of his immense courage, dignity and the time he gave to all fans. At this time we ask that I and our family be allowed to mourn his passing in privacy.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
City News Service contributed to this report.