The Staples Center got its 10th statue when the Los Angeles Lakers immortalized NBA legend Elgin Baylor with a bronze bust on Friday. Many NBA icons attended the statue unveiling ceremony, along with family members and friends.
“I knew who Elgin Baylor was from the many military basketball courts that I visited filled with guys who couldn’t jump over their shadow trying to be Elgin Baylor,” said Grammy-winning singer Bill Withers.
Longtime Lakers commentator Stu Lantz was the MC for the event, representatives of the Lakers past generations spoke on how Baylor inspired them and how he revolutionized NBA basketball.
“Basketball, it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport,” Baylor said. “Without wonderful teammates, it certainly wouldn’t have been possible.”
Baylor was the number one overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft, picked up by the then Minneapolis Lakers. He would become Rookie of the Year, averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds per game.
“Rumor has it that the Minneapolis Lakers, had they not been able to get [Baylor], they may have gone under,” Lantz said. “In essence, [Baylor] kind of saved the Lakers.”
While playing in the NBA, Baylor served in the United States Army reserve and was called into active duty during the 1961-62 season. He was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington, but was allowed to play for the Lakers on the weekends. During that season, Baylor averaged 38 points and 19 rebounds during 48 games.
Lakers president Earvin “Magic” Johnson emphasized one of his resounding achievements: earning 61 points in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. To add insult to injury, he set the untouchable record in the Boston Garden, adding another installment to the storied, historic rivalry between the two franchises.
“We’re so blessed to be able to honor a man who actually kicked it off for the Lakers here in Los Angeles,” Johnson said. “A man who really put entertainment into the NBA.”
Baylor still holds that record and also made 11 NBA All-Star appearances. Through his career, Baylor earned the nickname “Rabbit,” for athleticism and speed. Johnson and NBA icon Kobe Bryant noted how they studied and imitated his moves on court.
“That rocker step, that changing to the left rocker step, the hesitation, the elevating to the basket, putting your shoulder onto the big and finishing with contact,” Bryant said in a video shown at the ceremony. “I got all that from you.”
Baylor still holds the franchise record for most field goals made in a season with 1,029 shots from the field during the 1962-63 season. Another accomplishment of his, was making the All-NBA First Team 10 times.
“If you had the privilege of being in the locker room with him or be around him, you would’ve really known how special this man was,” said Baylor’s teammate Jerry West. “I loved him like a brother and I still do today, this is one of the greatest men I’ve ever known in my life.”
The Lakers franchise was the only team that Baylor had played on from 1958-1971. In his career, he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds and became the franchise leader in career rebounds with 11,463.
“I was 13 years old in the eighth grad and I went to Madison Square Garden to see the Lakers play and [Baylor] got 72 points against the Knicks that night,” said Showtime Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “Elgin really set a standard that I thought maybe I could catchup to.”
In 1983, the Lakers retired his no. 22 jersey in the Forum and was named to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1977.