Elgin Baylor passed away earlier this week at age 86. The NBA legend delivered the blueprint for the game’s aerial evolution during his illustrious career.
The Washington, D.C. native had a revolutionary feel for the game. His above-the-rim skills were second to none. And he paved the way for high-flying Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan, among others.
Veteran journalist David Aldridge offered a succinct summary of Baylor’s greatness. The Athletic D.C.’s editor-in-chief said after Baylor died: “He introduced the modern era of basketball to the league: high-flying, amazing creativity, lethal scoring.”
But how did it all begin?
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft out of Seattle University, Baylor made his debut on Oct. 22, 1958.
It was a splendid debut. Baylor scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out six assists in the Minneapolis Lakers’ 99-79 win over the Cincinnati Royals.
Buoyed by Baylor’s high octane energy and spectacular athleticism, the Lakers jumped out to a 32-15 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Amarillo (Texas) Globe Times published The Associated Press game report from Minneapolis on page 30 of its 84-page edition the next day.
Elgin Baylor made big splash
Here’s how the Texas newspaper’s article began:
“It took All-America Elgin Baylor just eight seconds to get on the scoreboard in his first pro basketball game and just one night to fire the fancy of Minneapolis Laker fans.
“The 6-6 rookie from Seattle University scored 25 points in his National Basketball Association debut last night in steering the Lakers to a walkaway 99-79 victory over the Cincinnati Royals.
“Baylor’s pro career was launched with all of the theatrical trappings.
“He got out of a sick bed to join his teammates in an armored autumn caravan behind a national guard that escorted them to the Auditorium.
“Laker promoters had the place lit up like a Hollywood premiere and sent relays of entertainers in front of a slightly uncomfortable crowd of between 3,500 and 4,000 spectators.“
A well-rounded performance
The AP reporter noted that Elgin Baylor was the star attraction in the game.
“He had them cheering the opening seconds and kept them that way the rest of the game,” AP reported. “His driving jump shot in the first eight seconds gave Minneapolis a lead it never lost. He hit the Lakers first eight points of the game and had 16 by halftime…”
Baylor finished 10-for-21 from the field and also sank 5 of 7 free throws.
Royals coach Bobby Wanzer was impressed by what he saw of Baylor.
“He moves extremely well, much like Mo Stokes,” Wanzer said, comparing the Lakers rookie with the former Royals star. (1956 NBA Rookie of the Year Maurice Stokes’ career ended the previous season due to a brain injury.)
View from the Lakers bench
Lakers coach John Kundla noted in AP’s aforementioned report that Baylor had the potential for greatness.
Kundla described Baylor as “a tremendous prospect, a man who could become one of the real stars of this league.”
“He did very well his opening game,” added Kundla, who passed away in July 2017 at age 101. “There were mistakes he made on defense, although I have to say he played better than average defensively for a rookie.”
Indeed, it was a sign of many more great things to come in Elgin Baylor’s Hall of Fame career.