Lakers legend Elgin Baylor has died of natural causes at age 86, the team announced Monday. He was surrounded by his wife, Elaine, and his daughter, Krystal, per the Lakers.
“Elgin was the love of my life and my best friend,” Elaine said as part of the team’s statement. “And like everyone else, I was in awe of his immense courage, dignity and the time he gave to all fans. At this time we ask that I and our family be allowed to mourn his passing in privacy.”
The Hall of Famer averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 846 career games for the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers — the team relocated in 1960 — earning 11 All-Star and 10 All-NBA selections in 14 seasons. He is one of only four players in NBA history with career averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately for Baylor, he walked away from the NBA without having won a championship despite reaching the NBA Finals eight times. Baylor retired after playing only nine games of the 1971-72 campaign, citing knee issues and an inability to consistently perform at a high level, and the Lakers captured the title later that season.
But Baylor didn’t need a ring to leave a lasting impact on the game. He is considered one of the greatest players and most prolific scorers in basketball history and was largely ahead of his time. His combination of skill and athleticism was unmatched among the players of his era.
As Hall of Fame guard Richie Guerin once described, “Elgin’s either got three hands or two balls. It’s like guarding a flood.”
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era — his many accolades speak to that,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said. “He was one of the few Lakers players whose career spanned from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But more importantly he was a man of great integrity, even serving his country as a U.S. Army reservist, often playing for the Lakers only during his weekend pass. He is one of the all-time Lakers greats with his No. 22 jersey retired in the rafters and his statue standing guard in front of Staples Center.
“He will always be part of the Lakers legacy. On behalf of the entire Lakers family, I’d like to send my thoughts, prayers and condolences to Elaine and the Baylor family.”
Following his playing career, Baylor briefly coached the New Orleans Jazz before later serving as the Clippers’ general manager for more than two decades. He was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2005-06, but he left the franchise on bad terms after claiming he was pushed out because of age and racial discrimination. (Baylor said he worked under disgraced ex-owner Donald Sterling for so long because of limited opportunities for former Black players and the need to provide for his family.) He filed a lawsuit in 2009, but the suit was dismissed in 2011.
The Clippers acknowledged Baylor’s passing on Monday and shared a statement from team consultant Jerry West, who played alongside Baylor with the Lakers from 1960-71.
“I was made aware of Elgin’s passing this morning and I’m saddened beyond belief that he is gone,” West said. “I will forever cherish my days spent with him as a teammate. He was one of the most gifted and special players this game will ever see and he has never gotten his just due for what he accomplished on the court. . . . He was a prince both on and off of the court. There are no words to describe how I feel at this time. My deepest condolences to his dear wife, Elaine, his loving family and his many fans and friends. I loved him like a brother.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also released a statement praising Baylor for his work both on and off the court.
“Elgin Baylor set the course for the modern NBA as one of the league’s first superstar players,” Silver said. “An 11-time All-Star during his Hall of Fame career with the Lakers, Elgin produced remarkable results with his athleticism and groundbreaking style of play, including setting an NBA Finals record with 61 points in Game 5 of the 1962 championship series — a performance made all the more extraordinary by the fact that he had spent part of that season away from his team while on active duty in the Army.
“In addition to his legendary playing career, Elgin was a man of principle. He was a leading activist during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and an influential voice among his fellow players. After his retirement, Elgin remained a part of the NBA family as both a coach and an executive, imparting his wisdom to generations of NBA talent. Elgin will be deeply missed, and we send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Elaine, his family and friends.”
Current and former players reacted to Baylor’s death on Monday, including another Lakers legend in Magic Johnson, who called Baylor “a true class act and a great man.”
RIP to the NBA’s first high flyer, Lakers Legend, & Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. Before there was Michael Jordan doing amazing things in the air, there was Elgin Baylor! A true class act and great man, I’ll always appreciate the advice he shared with me when I first came into the pic.twitter.com/khPRc73gqW
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 22, 2021
My deepest condolences to his family and friends. Rest in Peace, legend 🙏
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) March 22, 2021
Our game lost a pillar today. Rest in Power to the great Elgin Baylor 🙏🏾
— Chris Paul (@CP3) March 22, 2021
RIP to one of the best to ever touch a basketball, Elgin Baylor 🙏🏽🕊
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) March 22, 2021
RIP to a pioneer and legend of the game Elgin Baylor 🙏🏾❤️
— andrew wiggins (@22wiggins) March 22, 2021
Rip to the legend Elgin Baylor! 🙏🏾🙏🏾
— Keef Morris (@Keefmorris) March 22, 2021