Elgin Baylor is internationally known for his sports career. A trailblazer in professional basketball, he moved effortlessly from player to coach to front office executive.
Countless pages on Google trace his professional rise, citing Elgin’s protest against racism as a rookie, his NBA records and awards, his statue unveiling at Staples Center and the recent release of his book, “Hang Time: My Life in Basketball.”
Yet, few are aware that the strong prayer life of he and his wife, Elaine, has guided him throughout his many achievements. A life-long Baptist, Elgin shared, “I always believe that whatever I did in life, I always prayed. I believed that I served a loving and forgiving God.”
Elaine noted, “I was born in New Orleans and grew up in the Baptist church. [I come from] a working class family went to school on scholarships and everything was due to prayer. I had God’s favor. That’s been my foundation and a part of my life.”
Reflecting that prayer was also present during her husband’s upbringing, Elaine said, “Elgin’s mother was a praying woman. She was always praying, always optimistic, always encouraging and always hopeful. Despite all of the stuff Elgin was dealing with growing up, she was always lifting him up – ‘It’s going to be alright, you’re doing fine.’”
A native of Washington, DC, Elgin was raised in segregated times. Facilities for White children were much better than those for Blacks.
“The Black kids didn’t have a playground with swings, swimming pool, tennis courts and volleyball like the White kids did,” recalled Elgin. “We played basketball with a tennis ball because we didn’t have a basketball. We would sneak into the White kids park at night to play on their nice courts and the police would run us off.”
However, God was in the plan, Elaine said, because with the tennis ball, Elgin developed incredible “eye and hand coordination. The White kids were surprised that Elgin was as good as he was.”
Prayer comforted Elgin during his early NBA years, especially when he had to board a plane. A reluctant aircraft passenger, Elgin remembered turning to God during one a particularly bad flight.
“Once, we crash-landed in a cornfield in Iowa in a DC-3. I’ll never forget. It was snowing and the plane started shaking and the wind was rocking it. We started going lower everybody was praying, making promises to God even though they hadn’t been to church in so long,” said Elgin.
“But really, I wasn’t scared. I just sat down and trusted in God and believed we were going to fine and we did land all right.”
When moved to coaching, the pressures of winning became more intense, which led Elaine to entreat the Lord even more.
“I was always praying that there would be success in what he was doing (coaching) and he would win [the game]. Also, there were still racial tensions to deal with and comments from people in the stands that weren’t the kindest. So, prayer was my whole vigil,” she said.
“I’d turn to Philippians 4:13 and pray that everything would be taken care of. God would supply all of my needs and our health and healing would be secure.”
Today, Elgin and Elaine continue to be prayer warriors. “We still pray separately and sometimes we come together in agreement on some things,” he said. “I like to pray and I’ll pray anywhere.”
Whether facing challenges or not, Elaine advised, “Always pray because if you don’t need it at the moment, you’ll be covered when you do need it. Cover yourself and your family and the people you love, situations and the things that you love.
“You can’t stop God’s manifestation from coming through. His hand is not suppressed by society. Hardship gives you a chance to move closer to God.”