Los Angeles — Elgin Baylor, the Lakers’ 11-time NBA All-Star who soared through the 1960s with a high-scoring style of basketball that became the model for the modern player, died Monday. He was 86.
The Lakers announced that Baylor died of natural causes in Los Angeles with his wife, Elaine, and daughter Krystal by his side.
With a silky-smooth jumper and fluid athleticism, Baylor played a major role in revolutionizing basketball from a ground-bound sport into an aerial show. He spent parts of 14 seasons with the Lakers in Minneapolis and Los Angeles during his Hall of Fame career, teaming with Jerry West throughout the ’60s in one of the most potent tandems in basketball history.
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era — his many accolades speak to that,” Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said in a statement announcing Baylor’s death.
Baylor’s second career as a personnel executive with the woebegone Los Angeles Clippers was much less successful. He worked for the Clippers from 1986 until 2008, when he left the team with acrimony and an unsuccessful lawsuit against owner Donald Sterling and the NBA, alleging age and race discrimination.
The 6-foot-5 Baylor played in an era before significant television coverage of basketball, and little of his play was ever captured on film. His spectacular style is best remembered by those who saw it in person — including West, who once called him “one of the most spectacular shooters the world has ever seen.”
Baylor had an uncanny ability to hang in mid-air indefinitely, inventing shots along the way with his head bobbing. Years before Julius Erving and Michael Jordan became international superstars with their similarly acrobatic games, Baylor created the blueprint for the modern superstar.
Baylor soared above most of his contemporaries, but never won a championship or led the NBA in scoring largely because he played at the same time as centers Bill Russell, who won all the rings, and Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed all the scoring titles. Knee injuries hampered much of the second half of Baylor’s career, although he remained a regular All-Star.
West and Baylor were the first pair in the long tradition of dynamic duos with the Lakers, followed by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980s before Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won three more titles in the 2000s.
But Baylor’s Lakers lost six times in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics and another time to the New York Knicks. Los Angeles won the 1971-72 title, but only after Baylor retired nine games into the season.
Baylor became the first NBA player to surpass 70 points with a 71-point game Dec. 11, 1960, against New York. Chamberlain set the record of 100 points in 1962.
Baylor averaged 38 points in the 1961-62 season despite doing active duty as an Army reservist. He scored 61 points in a playoff game against Boston in 1962, a record that would stand for 24 years until Jordan broke it.
Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds during his 14-year career. He scored a total of 23,149 points in 846 games, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in May 1977.