Jesse Owens. Jackie Robinson. Bill Russell. Jim Brown. Elgin Baylor. Oscar Robertson. Muhammad Ali.
Elgin doesn't belong on the list. That's what you're thinking.
Thanks for telling me what I'm thinking Jackass. If you're like most basketball fans of my generation, I'm guessing you'd remember Baylor as that guy who was really good at basketball along time ago, and probably wouldn't get all argumentative about him appearing on this list.
Not the guy who wore goofy sweaters to the NBA lottery every year. Not the unofficial caretaker for the worst franchise in professional sports. You might accept him on the "Worst GM" list, or even the "Celebs Who Looked Most Like Nipsey Russell" list. But not the list above.
Who the fuck follows basketball closely enough to know what kind of shit elgin wore to the draft, but not closely enough to know that he was once a great player?
Not with Jesse and Jackie and Russell and Brown and Oscar and Ali. That's a stretch. That's what you're thinking.
Well what I'm thinking is why the fuck Wilt is left off that list, but we'll get to that later.
So come back with me to 1958, the year Elgin took Seattle University to the NCAA title game and then skipped his senior season to join the Minneapolis Lakers. If you don't think Minneapolis is teeming with black people now, you should have seen the city in 1958.
Notice how a normal writer would have casually noted that Minneapolis is and was a predominantly white city. But asking simmons to rattle off a fact without drawing attention to his own cleverness? Why you might as well ask Kobe Teen Wolf Bryant to get his teammates involved!!!
Blacks were still referred to as "Negroes" and "coloreds." They drank from different water fountains, stood in their own lines for movies and were discriminated against in nearly every walk of life.
Not only do "we" not realize that elgin Baylor was a great basketball player, "we" lack a basic working knowledge of American history.
Elgin came into a league where guys shot running jump hooks and one-handed set shots. Teams routinely took 115 shots a game and made less than 40 percent of them. Nobody played above the rim except Russell
Pretty impressive that Wilt averaged like 20 rebounds a game without playing above the rim.
Rebound, run the floor, get a quick shot. Quantity over quality. That's what worked. Or so they thought.
How could an editor possibly correct his sentence fragments when they lead to such poetry?
Because Elgin changed everything. He did things that nobody had ever seen before. He defied gravity.
He jumped really high, which Russell and Wilt already did.
Elgin would drive from the left side, take off with the basketball, elevate, hang in the air, hang in the air, then release the ball after everyone else was already back on the ground.
And sometimes, when he jumped really high, he put the basketball in the basket, resulting in two points for his team.
You could call him the godfather of hang time. You could call him the godfather of the "WOW!" play.
You could also not try to come up with lame nicknames 50 years after the fact.
You could point to his entrance into the league as the precise moment when basketball changed for the better.
if it helps you drive an asinine narrative, sure, why not?
Along with Russell, Elgin turned a horizontal game into a vertical one.
Man if only Wilt had figured out how to use his athleticism to propel himself upwards, I bet he'd have been real special!
It's impossible to fully capture Elgin's greatness five decades after the fact, but let's try. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds and carried the Lakers to the Finals as a rookie. He scored 71 points against Wilt's Warriors in his second season. He averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds in his third season -- as a 6-foot-5 forward, no less -- and topped himself the following year with the most amazing accomplishment in NBA history. During the 1961-62 season, Elgin played only 48 games -- all on weekends, all without practicing -- and somehow averaged 38 points, 19 rebounds and five assists a game.
It's impossible to describe his greatness, except by using stats and recapping his team's accomplishments
Wilt's 50 makes sense considering the feeble competition and his gratuitous ball-hogging. Oscar's triple-double makes sense considering the style of play at the time -- tons of points, tons of missed shots, tons of available rebounds. But Elgin's 38-19-5 makes no sense whatsoever.
This, my friends, might be the biggest Simmons logic-fail in the history of his career- oscar and wilt's numbers were mitigated by the era in which they played, but that somehow doesn't apply to a guy who played at the exact same fucking time; McGwire hit all those HR's with roids, but how on earth did Sosa do it? IT DoESN'T MAKE SENSE!!!
I don't see how this happened. It's inconceivable. A U.S. Army Reservist at the time, Elgin lived in a barracks in the state of Washington, leaving only whenever they gave him a weekend pass ... and even with that pass, he could only fly coach on flights with multiple connections to meet the Lakers wherever they happened to be playing. Once he arrived, he would throw on a uniform and battle the best NBA players alive on back-to-back nights -- fortunately for the Lakers, most games were scheduled on the weekends back then -- and make the same complicated trip back to Washington on Sunday night or Monday morning. That was his life for five months.
Not trying to downplay his accomplishment, because this is one of the great feats in any sport, but Simmons just pointed out that he was a transcendent athlete, playing against inferior competition; So that's how it happened, genius, that's how you can conceive of it - it's not a supernova exploding in front of your very eyes
Forty-six years later, nobody even remembers Elgin's 38-19-5 happened.
Except for anyone who was alive and watching basketball at the time, or has ever read Baylor's wikipedia page/one of the many acclaimed books about basketball in that era;
When he carried the Lakers to the cusp of a championship against a juggernaut Celtics team -- becoming the first-ever member of the 60-20 Club in the process (in Game 5, Elgin exploded for an incomprehensible 61 points and 22 rebounds) -- he came within an errant Frank Selvy 10-footer of winning the title in Boston. Standing under the basket, Elgin jumped too soon for the rebound and didn't tip it in. He would never come closer to a ring.
I'm sure Greg and CTZ can explain why it was all Elgin's fault that they didn't win that title, and TRU WINNERS do what they have to do when the game is on the line
During the first two weeks of the '72 season, Elgin believed he was holding back a potentially great team and retired nine games into the season. The Lakers immediately rolled off a record 33-game winning streak and eventually beat the Knicks for the title.
Somehow, the Ewing Theory doesn't apply to him, but it does apply to Ewing, who has seen his Knicks make the playoffs just 4 times in 15 years following his departure, and win just one series;
Elgin lived through some things during his career that we like to forget happened now. Lord knows how many racial slurs bounced off him, how many N-bombs were lobbed from the stands, how much prejudice he endured on a day-to-day basis as the league's signature black star.
I thought Russell was the league's signature black star, as well as honorary pope and special ambassador to all extraterrestrial life forms
Russell bottled everything up and used it as fuel for the next game: He wouldn't suffer; his opponents would suffer. Oscar morphed into the angriest dude in the league, someone who screamed at his own teammates as much as the referees, a great player who played with an even greater chip on his shoulder.
What if I told you that in his book, Simmons spins these qualities to drive up one of these players in his rankings, and the other down? Which one of them would you guess?
Elgin didn't have the same mean streak. He loved to joke with teammates. He never stopped talking. He loved life and loved playing basketball. He couldn't hide it. And so his body soaked up every ugly slight like a sponge.
Just makes things less awkward when the dahhhkies are cheerful, don't you think?
"But the indignity of a hotel clerk acting as if you aren't there, or people who won't sell you a sandwich because you're black ... those are the things you never forget." And he didn't.
Were you just going to take the word of the guy who lived through all this, that he wouldn't forget? Don't be such a fool
Throw in today's nine-figure contracts and the babying and deifying of today's basketball stars and you can see why they would be a little bitter. Do any of the modern players realize that someone like Elgin paved the way for their eight-car garages and McMansions?
Yes, they all realize it, you fucking idiot, they just can't fully imagine what things were like in the Jim Crow era
Frustrated by low wages, excessive traveling and the lack of a pension plan, Elgin, Oscar, Russell and others decided to strike at the 1964 NBA All-Star Game in Boston. It was one of the ballsiest and shrewdest decisions in the history of professional sports that nobody ever mentions... According to David Halberstam's "Breaks of the Game," the votes were split
Nobody ever mentions it, except in arguably the most celebrated basketball book ever written
For whatever reason, this story never developed legs historically, although we hear about Curt Flood and Marvin Miller all the time.
Because baseball was a much higher profile sport at the time, and because Flood's court case went all the way to the supreme court and dragged out over a number of years; or whatever reason I don't know
Only die-hard fans remember at this point that, by any calculation, Elgin was one of the eight or nine greatest players ever and the second best forward behind Larry Bird;
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA you just had to pre-empt your fucktarded readers from putting 2 and 2 together, didn't you?
(Note: I have seen some of the early Elgin tapes and can't emphasize this strongly enough -- watching Elgin dismantle his "peers" is like watching the scene in "Back to the Future" when Marty McFly starts cranking his electric guitar solo as everyone else stares at him in disbelief
IDK, you could have just described some of the basketball plays that he actually made in that footage, but you can't risk that some of your readers might actually enjoy sports for its own sake and are not in it just to make poorly informed wisecracks and terrible analogies
He didn't have that signature "thing" to carry him through eternity
Honestly, I think he's earning his $5M salary a lot better by not writing at all than by writing sentences like the above;
You rarely hear Elgin mentioned with the big boys anymore. Unless you're talking to an NBA fan over the age of 50. Then they defend Elgin and berate you for not realizing how unbelievable he was.
As do the people who got to interview him for their cushy sportswriting job, and pretended they always knew his career stats by heart
My theory is everything that happened after Elgin's playing career ended up obscuring the career itself. The Clippers hired Elgin to run them in 1986, and really, he has been something of a punchline ever since.
Unless they're trainwrecks like Isiah or great successes like Jerry West, very few people are going to remember a HoF player's career differently because of what they did in the front office afterwards
For instance, I wrote these two paragraphs about him in 2004, after I had purchased my first season of Clipper season tickets:
And who better to define his legacy than me!
When he found out I was coming for lunch, he wasn't pleased. Coincidentally, he ended up in the Staples cafeteria at the same time we were eating; one of my lunch partners asked Elgin at the salad bar if he wanted to join us. Elgin glanced over at our table, noticed me sitting there and growled, "That guy's an [expletive]."
Baylor: good player, better judge of character; That's what overshadowed his UNDISPUTED top 8 career - his "f e u d" with you;
Only he used a seven-letter expletive, placing most of his emphasis on the first three letters. For instance, let's pretend the word was "Bassbowl."
oh ho ho! how salacious! how SPICY!
People loved that story. Of everything I ever wrote for ESPN.com, it's easily one of the most popular anecdotes I ever passed along. You bassbowl! I hear that 10 times a year at Clipper games.
If that's actually true, there are some sad, sad people in this country
"And you-you-you know what else? He went first, but after you made your shot, he-he-he made it seem like he had last shot. Did you catch that?"
"I caught it," I said. "I thought it was funny that he cheated."
Elgin made another face.
"I'm glad you caught that," he said. "I didn't think you caught it."
He thinks I'm smart! Take that Herald editors who treated me as they would any other junior staff writer!
One time I asked Elg how he felt about chartered planes and he flew off the handle.
"Sheeeeeeeeeet," he said.
It must have been good to finally get confirmation from a real life black person that they talk just like the guys in the Wire
"When I played, we flew coach and carried our own bags! We landed two, three, four times! You ever hear about the time we crashed in a cornfield?"
of course we had to get past a compelling account of the Biggie/Tupac caliber beef to hear something as mundane as this
You probably don't know that story either
I didn't, but I also wasn't about to interview an NBA legend, which should have prompted some cursory research about his life and career;
If you're younger than 40, when you think of Elgin, you probably remember him wearing one of those Bill Cosby sweaters and wincing because the Clippers' lottery number came too soon.
No, because my basketball fandom at the time consisted of watching games, not writing a yearly column that involved me watching the NBA draft and pointing out how black all the black people were;
You should think about him creating hang time from scratch in 1958.
Nice prose, bruh;
Think of him telling Hundley that he couldn't play that exhibition game in West Virginia, not because he was trying to prove a point, but because it would have made him feel like less of a human being.
You could almost say that he was trying to prove the point that he, and other members of his race, were in fact human beings equal to whites
Elgin ended up leaving the Clippers on the same day Barack Obama took part in his second presidential debate. The two events weren't related at all.
Or so it seemed.
Seriously fuck this guy; Even if he never writes again, it will take sportswriting a decade to recover