Elgin Baylor: His Legacy and Why We Should Care

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Elgin Baylor: His Legacy and Why We Should Care

What is the legacy that is being left by Elgin Baylor?

It is the human condition to wonder, "What does my life mean and what does my life contribute to the world?" In short, "Why am I alive?" There are those who choose to spend their lives in hiding, living a life of un-actualized possibilities… then there are those who surpass those expectations and in this respect Elgin was spectacular.

To put his contributions to the game of basketball in perspective, we have to take a step back.

Simply put, Elgin came into the league in a time of extreme racism. He played under the auspice of an ‘understood’ league rule limiting the number of African-American players per squad, had to work on the weekends because of his commitment to the U.S. military, and still had to fight the latent and overt racism of the time (My favorite writer Bill Simmons chronicles the Elgin Baylor history here).

In sum, from the Simmons article, Elgin was awesome. Someone, he argues, deserving of being chronicled in this list of notables: Jesse Owens. Jackie Robinson. Bill Russell. Jim Brown. Elgin Baylor. Oscar Robertson. Muhammad Ali. Why?

— Amazing talent: Check out his stats (from the Simmons article):

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 NBA 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.

- Trendsetting set of skills:

Along with Russell, Elgin turned a horizontal game into a vertical one. The jump shot. The cross over. Athleticism. These are the hallmarks of the game today and Elgin had all the abilities needed to play in today’s game.

— Incredible work ethic (from the Simmons article):

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.

It is the hardships he endured, it is the understanding and compassion he manifested while playing the game, and the monumental effects he had on the way basketball is played today that he should be remembered…

Elgin Baylor - Greatest College Basketball Players

The Clippers Years: What happened?

There is a story of crabs in a bucket — that crabs in a bucket will pull down crabs that wish to escape the pail. It is not good enough to have one escape, rather, they get dragged down back into the pail, never to gain freedom… this has been at the core of the Clippers organization. They just never seem to be able to support one another in order to get to greater heights.

His legacy as a Clipper GM is extensive as his was one of the longest tenured GMs at the time of his ‘departure’ (more on this later):

Being a lifelong Clipper fan, these legislative actions do not come as unexpected nor a shock. That Elgin Baylor has decided to sue his former employer is something I have come to expect from the Clipper organization especially with Donald Sterling at the helm. Donald Sterling is someone who (from the Google search of 'Donald Sterling scandal') requires a special investigation:

— Just what the NBA needs, another sex scandal: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0812041sterling1.html

AUGUST 12–Just what the NBA needs, another sex scandal: Donald Sterling, the miserly tycoon who owns the Los Angeles Clippers, testified last year that he regularly paid a Beverly Hills woman for sex, describing her as a $500-a-trick "freak" with whom he coupled "all over my building, in my bathroom, upstairs, in the corner, in the elevator." Sterling’s graphic testimony — which came during a two-day pretrial deposition in connection with a lawsuit he filed against the woman, Alexandra Castro — will surely nettle basketball commissioner David Stern, who normally has to explain away the behavior of 20-something athletes, not married 70-year-old club owners worth nearly a billion. During a sworn January 2003 deposition, Sterling denied having a relationship with Castro, though he changed his testimony when questioned again last August. In often explicit detail, Sterling recounted three years of transactions with Castro, whom he met in mid-1999 (below you’ll find excerpts from Sterling’s deposition). While acknowledging that, "maybe I morally did something wrong," the Clippers owner was not shy when it came to describing hour-long sessions with Castro, whom Sterling credited with "sucking me all night long" and whose "best sex was better than words could express." Testifying that he was "quietly concealing it from the world," Sterling had a blunt appraisal of his "exciting" relationship with Castro: "It was purely sex for money, money for sex, sex for money, money for sex." Sterling, a Los Angeles real estate mogul, bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million and the franchise — one of the most profitable in the NBA — is now worth more than $200 million. Since Sterling’s purchase, the team has amassed the NBA’s worst combined record and gained a reputation as a stingy operation that will trade an exceptional player before paying him a superstar’s salary.

From a Google search of ‘Donald Sterling Racism’:

— Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice on Monday for housing discrimination: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=jones/060810&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab5pos2

Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice on Monday for housing discrimination. Though Sterling has no problem paying black people millions of dollars to play basketball, the feds allege that he refused to rent apartments in Beverly Hills and Koreatown to black people and people with children…

What’s even more disturbing? Sterling was sued for housing discrimination by 19 plaintiffs in 2003, according to The Associated Press. In this case, Sterling was accused of trying to drive blacks and Latinos out of buildings he owned in Koreatown. In November, Sterling was ordered to pay a massive settlement in that case. Terms were not disclosed, but the presiding judge said this was "one of the largest" settlements ever in this sort of matter. The tip of the iceberg: Sterling had to play $5 million just for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

— From a Google search of ‘Donald Sterling’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Sterling

He rebuffed numerous offers from other cities (including near-by Anaheim and their Honda Center arena) to relocate the Clippers, but he has been steadfast in his refusal to move the team out of Los Angeles proper. Sterling has always been of belief that he wants to eventually win a championship in the city of Los Angeles, even despite the status of sharing Staples Center with the always-popular Lakers and previously playing in an outdated Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

Until 2003, Sterling has been widely criticized for his unwillingness to invest in the Clippers, due in part to the losing seasons. In 2003, Sterling signed Elton Brand to the biggest contract in franchise history; a six-year, $82 million deal. He matched the Corey Maggette contract from what the Utah Jazz offered; a deal worth $45 million over six years. He and the Clippers have also since brought in higher-priced veterans free agents, such as Cuttino Mobley in 2005 and Tim Thomas in 2006. Also, another first in the Sterling tenure of Clippers ownership, the team gave a four-year contract extension to head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr., as well as a five-year extension to center Chris Kaman. Both extensions take effect starting in the 2007-08 NBA season. Under Sterling’s ownership, no Clipper head coach has lasted beyond four seasons, outside of Dunleavy and Bill Fitch (1994 to 1998).

This most recent footnote is an interesting concluding note to the story, which is not really concluding… as long as Sterling and Dunleavy run the team, it will continue to be a terrible organization.

Coach Mike Dunleavy, now in his sixth season in Los Angeles, added Baylor’s GM duties after the Hall of Famer’s departure three weeks before the season began, while Neil Olshey was promoted to assistant general manager. At the time, Dunleavy said Baylor had resigned.

Right. He ‘resigned’. Allegedly.

Post Clippers Years:

Baylor’s attorney, Carl Douglas, said the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Baylor plans to hold a news conference Thursday to discuss the lawsuit, which also names club president Andy Roeser, Douglas said in a fax sent Wednesday.

The lawsuit maintains that Baylor was "discriminated against and unceremoniously released from his position with the team on account of his age and his race" and that he was "grossly underpaid during his tenure with the Clippers, never earning more than $350,000 per year, when compared with the compensation scheme for general managers employed by every other team in the NBA."

The NBA is named in the lawsuit, according to Douglas’ fax, as "a joint venturer/partner of condoning, adopting and ratifying this discriminatory practice since the league is fully aware of salaries paid to all of the general managers."

Clippers attorney Robert H. Platt said in a statement Wednesday night that he had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on Baylor’s specific allegations.

"However, I can categorically state that the Clippers always treated Elgin fairly throughout his long tenure with the team. Prior to his decision to leave the team last October, Elgin never raised any claims of unfair treatment," Platt said.

"It’s hard to believe that he would now make these ridiculous claims after the organization stood by him during 22 years and only three playoff appearances. It would be hard to find any sports team that has demonstrated greater loyalty to its general manager."

Sterling attended Wednesday night’s game against the New York Knicks, but a team spokesman said the owner would not be made available for comment.

Baylor became vice president of basketball operations with the Clippers in 1986 after an outstanding 14-year playing career with the Lakers and a brief stint as coach of the New Orleans Jazz.

He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1976, chosen as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players during the league’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1997, and named the NBA executive of the year following the 2005-06 season.

The Clippers have been one of the NBA’s least successful franchises over the years and last made the playoffs in 2005-06, when they lost in the second round.

Coach Mike Dunleavy, now in his sixth season in Los Angeles, added Baylor’s GM duties after the Hall of Famer’s departure three weeks before the season began, while Neil Olshey was promoted to assistant general manager. At the time, Dunleavy said Baylor had resigned.

Baylor claims that although coach Mike Dunleav was rewarded with a lucrative contract following the Clippers run to the playoffs in 2006, Sterling did not provide any economic reward to Baylor for his efforts as GM.

"The team I pushed Donald Sterling to assemble made it to the second round of the playoffs exceeding everyone’s expectations," said Baylor, who was named NBA executive of the year that season.
"The team’s coach was acknowledged and rewarded with a long-term contract worth over $20 million. When I asked [Sterling] if he was going to take care of me, he said nothing, he offered me nothing, he did nothing, no salary increase, no bonus, nothing."

"The way I was treated by the NBA and the Clippers was unfair and in many ways discriminatory. It was wrong," said Baylor, reading from a prepared statement at a news conference at the office of his lawyer Carl Douglas.

"We are forced to take this action because our effort to resolve this dispute quietly were ignored. So I look forward to having my day in court."
"I worked with the Clipper organization on a contract for only my first six years, until 1993, after that it was if I had passed the smell test," said Baylor, the team’s GM until last October. "For the remainder of the time I was told I did not need a formal written agreement. Donald Sterling always informed me whenever I asked about my contract situation and my salary, that I was a ‘lifer’, that I would remain with the Clipper family until I decided to retire."

The lawsuit maintains that Baylor was "discriminated against and unceremoniously released from his position with the team on account of his age and his race" and that he was "grossly underpaid during his tenure with the Clippers, never earning more than $350,000 per year, when compared with the compensation scheme for general managers employed by every other team in the NBA.""This past August I was handed an agreement and told to ‘take it or leave it.’ Given that I had invested so much to the Clippers and the NBA I was traumatized by this situation and today I remain mentally and emotionally devastated," Baylor said. "I did not retire. I have so much more to give."

The NBA is named in the lawsuit, according to Douglas’ fax, as "a joint venturer/partner of condoning, adopting and ratifying this discriminatory practice since the league is fully aware of salaries paid to all of the general managers.

One of the NBA’s undisputed greatest of all time, the latest news headlines can do nothing but tarnish his legend. It is very unfortunate as Elgin has always been one of great honor and acumen. Suspect, periodic drafting aside (any Clipper fan would quickly state the Koralev pick over Granger set the team back three years), Elgin should be remembered for all that he gave to the game, not the latest, shameful disrepute which have lately been posted. I met the man. I shook his hand and looked him straight in the eye. He is a good man and his legacy is being tarnished by his association with an organization which has continually set new standards of ineptitude.

Mr. Elgin Baylor deserved better. I/we at www.TheHighPosts.com support his cause and want to raise awareness of his contributions to the sport. We hope that he does have that chance to come back and work again, as we feel that he does “have something more to give.”

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