Catch 22: The Curious Case of Elgin Baylor

On Monday we lost one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace them up, but the memory of his finest hour still resonates with basketball purists and Lakers fans across the globe decades later.

While probably not appreciated as much as he should be, Elgin Baylor has the stats to back up his supreme standing in the history of the game. He also, contrary to popular belief, has the playoff cache to stake his claim to the NBA’s Mount Rushmore.

Clutch Scoring Performance For The Ages

Nearly 59 years ago on April 14, 1962, a magnificent performance took place in basketball history, yet it is celebrated as a mere footnote. Scoring 60-plus points in an NBA game is a big deal, but imagine if such a feat took place in the playoffs, or better yet the NBA Finals.

If this were to happen in today’s NBA, ESPN and the powers magnified by social media, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube may actually shut down. But in 1962, there was nothing more than a radio broadcast to describe the incredible scoring display of Los Angeles Lakers legend, Baylor, who posted a then playoff record 61 points against the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.  

A man who was actually named after his father’s gold pocket watch, Elgin was on a tear that is rarely seen in any sport.  Leading up to his historic night, Baylor scored 35, 36, 39, and 38 points in the first four games as the series was even at two games apiece. 

As everything shifted back to the Boston Garden after playing in the friendly confines of L.A. Sports Arena, Elgin knew the Lakers needed to steal Game 5 with the possibility of closing things out back home. The cannon was loaded as he hoisted 46 field goal attempts, connecting on 22 of them while also converting 17-of-19 attempts from the charity stripe.

And to add to his stellar scoring performance, Baylor also grabbed 22 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 126-121 victory over the Celtics. Unfortunately for Elgin and his squad, the Celtics came back to win the next two games and the NBA title, thus leaving a bitter taste that at the time no one thought would last forever.

To this day 61 points is still a Finals record and only topped by one other regarding the playoffs. Michael Jordan is the only other player in NBA history to score more than 60 points in a playoff game as he posted 63 on the Celtics as well during the 1986 playoffs. 

The Most Underrated Great

But why is it that Elgin Baylor is often overlooked when describing the greatest to ever play the game? 

READ MORE: The Evolution of Basketball: There Are Too Many GOATS To Pick One

In addition to his scoring record, he was a 10-time All-NBA First Team player, 11-time All-Star, and had career per-game averages of 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.

This even includes a season of averaging 19.8 rebounds, a feat only exceeded by five other players in league history; all of which were 6-foot-9 or taller. He is considered by many to be the blueprint for the aerial displays of Julius Erving and Michael Jordan. 

At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Baylor was a rare combination of power and grace, showcasing moves that had never been seen before in the NBA. From his statistics to a description of his physical attributes, the one thing that is unfortunately stamped at the top of Baylor’s resume is he may be the greatest player in league history to never win a championship.

Titles Aside, Baylor Was An Iconic Innovator

Should a player be defined by titles?  One cannot escape that it is a key factor.  As great a player as LeBron James is, he probably would not be on anyone’s Mount Rushmore had he not won multiple titles (and the jury is still out on even this one). There are even conspiracy theories that Baylor may have been the reason the Lakers “did not” win the championship as he would retire nine games into the 1971-72 season only for the Lakers to coincidentally win the very first game without him. 

The conspired theory stems from that game because it was the first of the Lakers NBA record 33-game win streak which ultimately led to an NBA championship that season. Is it fair? I suppose that it is considering the result, but regardless of what anyone thinks, Elgin Baylor has to be considered amongst the game’s top 10 players of all time. Or even Top 5 Dead or Alive. 

Not saying that he cracks the lineup for many who may be reading this article, but you have to consider what he brought to the table.  Or do you…? I guess it’s just a Catch 22.  #RESPECT

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