Elgin “Rabbit” Baylor (1934-2021)

Elgin Baylor (Silver Screen and Roll)
Elgin Baylor (Silver Screen and Roll)

Ball handling wizard Elgin “Rabbit” Baylor was born Elgin Gay Baylor on September 16, 1934, in Washington, D.C. to John Wesley Baylor from Caroline County, Virginia, and Uzziel Lewis Baylor from Spotsylvania County, Virginia. His brothers were John L. Baylor and Kermit Baylor, and his sisters, Gladys Baylor Garrett and Columbia Baylor Reese.

Baylor attended segregated public schools in the District of Columbia, including the all-male Phelps Vocational High School, where he averaged 18.5 points per game during his junior year on the basketball team in 1951. Becoming disenchanted with school, he withdrew after his junior year to work odd jobs but continued to play recreational basketball. However, he eventually returned to school, graduating from Spingarn High School in southeast Washington D.C. in 1954 at the age of 20.

In 1954, Baylor was presented the SSA’s Livingston Trophy as the city’s best basketball player. He was also named first-team Washington All-Metropolitan team, becoming the first African-American player named to the team. Afterward, the 6-foot-5-inch, 225 pound small forward attended the College of Idaho, a private institution in Caldwell, Idaho on a football scholarship, though he never played football. Upon his arrival, he was invited to join the college’s basketball team without having to try out. He averaged more than 31 points and 20 rebounds per game, outperforming every other team player during the season.

In 1958, Baylor, by then at Seattle University (SU), a private Jesuit university in Seattle, Washington, averaged 32.5 points per game. He led the basketball team to the NCAA Championship game, where they lost to the University of Kentucky. Baylor entered the 1958 NBA draft, where he was the number one overall pick selected by the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers) and signed a contract for $20,000 per year. Baylor won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1959.

On June 22, 1958, Baylor and Ruby Saunders were married. They couple had a daughter, Alison, and a son, Alan.

Elgin Baylor (NBA.com)
Elgin Baylor (NBA.com)

During his 14-year career with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers, Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. In playoff games, he averaged 27.0 points and 12.9 rebounds.

Although he never won a championship, he led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times. He was a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection and played in 11 NBA All-Star Games.

A knee injury forced Baylor into retirement in 1971, but the Lakers awarded him a championship ring after their NBA championship in 1972. In 1977, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. On September 17, 1977, Baylor married Elaine Cunningham from New Orleans, Louisiana. They had one daughter, Krystal.

In 1986, Baylor was named Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Buffalo Clippers (later the Los Angeles Clippers), in Buffalo, New York. He was with the Clippers in Buffalo and Los Angeles for 22 seasons. During the 2005-2006 season, the Clippers finished with a 47-35 record and appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 1976. In 2006, Baylor won the NBA Executive of the Year Award.

While Elgin Baylor never won a title, he is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time by basketball historians. Elgin Gay Baylor died on March 22, 2021 in Los Angeles of natural causes. He was 86.

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