Monday, November 23, 2015

Review of "Elgin Baylor"

Sometimes I am amazed at how many basketball fans are unaware of elite players from earlier eras.  It appears that these people think there was no professional basketball players before Micheal Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came into the league in the 1980's. One of these forgotten players was considered one of the best all time in the 1960's, Elgin Baylor. His story is captured in this excellent biography.  Here is my review of "Elgin Baylor."

“Elgin Baylor: The Man Who Changed Basketball” by Bijan C. Bayne

Basketball, professional, biography, Lakers

Publish date:
August 13, 2015

292 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Elgin Baylor was one of the first true superstars of the NBA, with his best years coming during the late 1950’s and early1960’s for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers This biography of the man by Bijan C. Bane is the most complete book about Baylor.  It is a well-researched and well written account of Baylor’s entire basketball career.

His style of play was considered to be unusual at time, as he was playing above the rim often and making spectacular passes to teammates for easy baskets.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t score himself – while he never won the scoring title, he did not finish lower than sixth in the league during each complete season he competed.  Bayne captures the spirit of Baylor’s game with exciting accounts of the skills he would show off.  Here is one account of what Baylor could do from the 1962 All-Star game: “A third drive demonstrates Baylor’s yen for improvisation, as he drives the right side, is challenged by East All-Star forward Tommy Heinson, and takes to the air, bringing the basketball down to protect it and then releasing it for the layup as he clears the defender.” Like Baylor’s game, the book is filled with beautiful passages similar to this one.

Baylor also stood up for civil rights and was outspoken about fair treatment for African-American players in the NBA.  At the time, it was widely speculated that each team followed an unwritten quota of no more than three African-American players on each team. There were the struggles of segregation for hotels and eating establishments.  But the best account of what Baylor did for this movement was the stand that he and several other African-American players took before the 1964 All-Star game when they refused to play unless the league could guarantee them a pension.  Eventually their demands were met.  Bayne writes about this aspect of Baylor’s life with the same attention to detail as he does with the action on the court.

Baylor did remain in the game after his playing career ended, serving as head coach of the New Orleans (now Utah) Jazz and also as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers.  He did not have the same success here as he did as a player and as a result, the book does not talk about this aspect of his career as much as his playing days.

Nonetheless, this is an outstanding book on a man that is often overlooked when the greatest players in the history of the game are mentioned.  While that is a shame, this book does justice to show that Baylor truly is one of the game’s elite players and the reader will come away with much respect for both Elgin Baylor the player and the man.

Book Format Read:
E-book (EPUB)

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