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From Seattle U to the Lakers: How Elgin Baylor changed basketball

Local and national basketball legend Elgin Baylor is being remembered as one of the greatest players in NBA history. Baylor died Monday at the age of 86.

Baylor played at Seattle University before becoming an 11-time All-Star with the Lakers, both when they were in Minnesota and when they moved to Los Angeles. Baylor was also the first major league sports star to sit out a game because of racial discrimination.

He told NPR in 2018 that when the Lakers played in Charleston, W.Va., in 1959, he and his fellow Black teammates weren't allowed to check-in at the hotel.

"I was really hurt by that," Baylor explained. "And as I thought about it, I said, you know, it's like, 'Hey, I'm not going to go out there. You know, we're not like some animals, you know, the circus or something, and then go out there and put the show on for them.' So I said, you know, I'm just not going to play. Then I thought about it. I'm the captain of the team. What are you going to do to me? What are you going to do?"

On the court, Baylor was the first NBA player to surpass 70 points in a game. The Hall of Fame member is credited with revolutionizing the sport of basketball with spectacular aerial moves.

Elgin Baylor in his Lakers jacket in January 1968.
Credit The Associated Press
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The Associated Press
Elgin Baylor in his Lakers jacket in January 1968.

"He also helped change the style in which the game is played, that we take for granted today - moves such as spin dribbles, changing the ball from one hand to the other in midair, reverse moves, the move that people commonly call today the Eurostep, things of that nature he brought to the game, in terms of people seeing those moves in the mainstream as opposed to in the schoolyard," explains Bijan Bayne, author of the book "Elgin Baylor: The Man Who Changed Basketball."

One opponent said guarding Elgin Baylor was "like guarding a flood."

While at Seattle U, Baylor led the team to the 1958 NCAA championship game, where they lost to Kentucky.

After a long and successful NBA career, Baylor was a coach for the New Orleans Jazz. He was general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers from 1986 to 2008.

NPR contributed to this report.

Books in hand, Elgin Baylor, center, walks on Seattle University campus with classmates Jack Jones, left, and Craig Hanson on Feb. 1, 1957.
Credit Ed Johnson / The Associated Press file
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The Associated Press file
Books in hand, Elgin Baylor, center, walks on Seattle University campus with classmates Jack Jones, left, and Craig Hanson on Feb. 1, 1957.

  

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
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