How do you define what makes a person a champion?
For players in the NBA, it is quite simple: be part of a team that wins an NBA championship.
Throughout the history of the league, it is considered rather customary that every single player on the championship team is credited with being a champion. Even the 12th man gets a ring and the pride that comes with the greatest victory.
For me, the perfect definition of a player qualified to be a champion is, “Any player whose ultimate goal was contributing to the team’s success in multiple games during a season in which the team wins a championship.”
Therefore, anyone who played for the team and was not traded later in the year (as then his or her “ultimate goal” would have been altered) is eligible to be considered a champion.
So what does this mean?
It means that Elgin Baylor is an NBA Champion.
Even though Baylor only played nine games for the team, his contribution should still be recognized, as he is considered part of the Lakers' 1971-72 roster that went on to win a title.
If you wish to argue that Baylor’s contribution to his team was minimal, as it was only during nine games of the season, just ask the ’69 Celtics, ’77 Blazers, ’78 Bullets, ’79 Sonics or the ’95 Rockets if they think nine regular season games are important. Those teams were just nine games or fewer away from being ineligible for the playoffs and went on to win the title.
I think there is a great parallel to Elgin Baylor that proves that he is in fact a champion. Oddly enough, he comes from the Lakers’ family. His name is Tyronn Lue.
For those who don’t remember Tyronn Lue, he was integral in helping Derek Fisher contain Allen Iverson in the 2000-01 NBA Finals. Certainly he earned his ring in 2001.
However, Tyronn Lue was with the team the previous season as well. And he only played in the first eight games due to injury.
Even though he played one less game than Elgin Baylor, he is considered a part of that 1999-00 championship team as well.
Why? Because when your ultimate goal is contributing to the team’s success in multiple games during a season in which the team wins a championship you deserve to be considered a champion.
Tyronn Lue deserves to be a champion, as does Elgin Baylor.
Until the NBA decides to deem only a certain number of players on a team eligible for being considered a “champion” we must continue to define being a champion as stated above.
For many NBA fans, there is a great amount of poetic beauty to Baylor retiring without ever having won an NBA Championship.
I think it is the irony of his retirement midseason that makes it so appealing to retell the story as though he never contributed to the team that went on to win a title. Perhaps by not considering Baylor a champion seems to feed his legend more than take away from it. However, by all standards of measuring what makes a person a champion, this is nothing more than a myth.
To discredit his contributions to the 1971-72 Lakers team by not calling him a champion is inaccurate and ought to be righted.
Hopefully, people will someday realize that Baylor, though inhibited by injuries during his last season forcing him to retire, did ultimately achieve his goal of being a part of an NBA Championship team.
And that has some poetic beauty to it as well.