Elgin Baylor - Off To Los Angeles
Off to Los Angeles
When the Lakers started the 1960-61 season in Los Angeles, Jerry West joined Baylor and the two would form a potent, outside-inside tandem. Baylor averaged about 35 points per game during the team's first three seasons on the West Coast, including 38.3 in 1961-62. During that time, men were expected to perform military duty. Baylor missed 40 percent of his team's regular-season games in the 1960-61 season because of military service. "For most of his career, Baylor was the team leader off the court," Larry Schwartz wrote on the Web site ESPN.com. "He was the focus of most conversations. He was the one who began discussions, turned them joyfully into arguments and then made the final judgment of the disputes-whether whimsical or serious. Would a lion whip a tiger? No, Baylor decided. It was Baylor who disciplined the rookies, who decided when it was time for a pre-game meal, who decided when it was time to play poker."
The Lakers dominated the Western Conference, reaching the NBA Finals eight times in 12 years. Unfortunately they lost all eight. In three of the seven championship finals in which Baylor played (he missed the 1965 championship round, having ripped his kneecap in the Western Conference final), Los Angeles came tantalizingly close to winning only to lose to Boston in the climactic seventh game by less than 4 points each game. In two of those series, Los Angeles led the best-of-7 series in games, 3-2.
Baylor, nicknamed the "Big E," scored 61 points in Game five of the 1962 Finals in Boston Garden to spark Los Angeles to a 3-2 series advantage; it was then a single-game playoff record and remains a Finals record. But in Game seven that year, Frank Selvy missed a short jump shot at the end of regulation that would have given the Lakers the title. Boston, with the home court advantage, prevailed 110-107 in overtime. Four years later, a late Los Angeles rally fell short and the Celtics won another seventh game at home with a score of 95-93. In 1969, this time with Wilt Chamberlain joining Baylor and West, Boston won another Game seven with a score of 108-106 in Los Angeles. One year later, with the Celtics out of the way, the Lakers faced the New York Knicks in the Finals. That series went seven games as well, but in the finale, a badly injured Willis Reed hobbled onto the court unexpectedly and led New York to an easy 113-99 win. During Baylor's era, the Lakers lost six games in which they were one win short from a title.
Years later, recalling the 1962 seventh game, Baylor insisted both he and Selvy were fouled at the end of regulation. "Selvy thought Bob Cousy fouled him," Baylor said. "I thought Cousy fouled him. He took the shot from a spot where he was very proficient. Cousy said he never fouled him. I was in a position to get the offensive rebound. But somebody behind me shoved me out of bounds right into the referee. There was no foul call there, either. I looked around and saw (Bill) Russell and Sam Jones behind me."
"Some years later Baylor got a copy of the game's film and confirmed what he had suspected," the NBA.com wrote on its Web site. "Sam Jones had shoved him out of bounds, away from the rebound. Jones later joked about it with him and admitted pushing him."
Knee injuries and a torn Achilles' tendon plagued Baylor from the mid-sixties through the end of his career. Longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn said observing Baylor in 1965-66 "was like watching (race horse) Citation run on spavined legs." He played merely two games in 1970-71. Nine games into the 1971-72 season, Baylor announced his retirement. Ironically, the Lakers immediately reeled off a 33-game winning streak and won their first title in Los Angeles, the one Baylor had coveted. Baylor, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also named to the NBA's 35th and 50th anniversary teams.