The first time I asked the Los Angeles Clippers if I could arrange an interview with Elgin Baylor, I was told by a media relations staffer she’d see what she could do. Nothing happened. Nobody ever got back to me on that.
Second time, same thing.
Third time, I was told, “He doesn’t usually like to do these things.”
That was it for me. Three strikes and I’m out.
I had given up on hero worship long before that. Baylor was my favorite player when I was growing up. I wore his number on any uniform available. Yes, I tried to hang in the air the way he did. I’m glad to read Kobe Bryant couldn’t do it, either. By the time I had become an NBA beat writer, though, I just wanted to know about Baylor, period. I wouldn’t have asked for an autograph, and certainly wouldn’t have declared my youthful devotion.
What I would have asked is if there is any way on earth to teach hang time.
In some ways I think he eschewed media attention because the Clippers were often terrible, and he was the general manager for 22 years. But I also heard he was quiet and unassuming and didn’t really go in for that kind of thing.
That was just the opposite of his game.
A slew of stories about his statue being unveiled at Staples Center told of his breathtaking vertical lift, and that Dr. J, Michael Jordan, etc. were preceded by Baylor. I can say with conviction that’s true. When Doc came along, I remember people at school saying, “There’s an ABA guy who can dunk from the free-throw line.”
I would say, “Is he as good as Baylor?”
Despite failing on my plan to interview him, I was glad to see the statue to honor him. He played for the Lakers and worked for the Clippers. He joins Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Oscar De La Hoya, Luc Robitaille, Wayne Gretzky and broadcasters Chick Hearn and Bob Miller.
If you ask me, Baylor should have been there before most of them.
Somebody shouldn’t have made him wait so long.
On the other hand, hanging is what he did best.