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Remembering NBA Legend Elgin “Rabbit” Baylor: Family, Career, and Awards

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Elgin “Rabbit” Baylor, a ball-handling genius, was born Elgin Gay Baylor on September 16, 1934, in Washington, D.C., to parents John Wesley Baylor and Uzziel Lewis Baylor, both of Caroline County, Virginia, and Spotsylvania County, Virginia, respectively. John L. Baylor and Kermit Baylor were his brothers, and Gladys Garrett and Columbia Baylor Reese were his sisters.

In the District of Columbia, Baylor attended segregated public schools, such as the all-male Phelps Vocational High School, where he scored 18.5 points per game as a junior on the basketball team in 1951. He withdrew after his junior year to work odd jobs because he had grown bored with school, but he kept up his recreational basketball playing. He finally went back to school though, and at the age of 20, he earned his high school diploma from southeast Washington, D.C.’s Spingarn High School.

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Baylor received the SSA’s Livingston Trophy in 1954 for being the finest basketball player in the area. He was the first player of African descent to be named to the Washington All-Metropolitan first team. The 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound small forward later received a football scholarship to attend the College of Idaho, a private university in Caldwell, Idaho, even though he never participated in football. He didn’t have to try out; he was just welcomed to join the college’s basketball team. Over the course of the season, he outperformed every other team member, averaging more than 31 points and 20 rebounds per game.

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In 1958, Baylor averaged 32.5 points per game while attending Seattle University (SU), a private Jesuit institution in Seattle, Washington. The basketball team under his leadership advanced to the NCAA Championship game but fell to the University of Kentucky. When Baylor entered the 1958 NBA draft, the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers) selected him with the first overall pick and offered him a $20,000-per-year contract. The 1959 Rookie of the Year Award went to Baylor.

On June 22, 1958, Baylor and Ruby Saunders were married. They couple had a daughter, Alison, and a son, Alan.

During his 14-year career with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers, Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. In playoff games, he averaged 27.0 points and 12.9 rebounds.

Although he never won a championship, he led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times. He was a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection and played in 11 NBA All-Star Games.

A knee injury forced Baylor into retirement in 1971, but the Lakers awarded him a championship ring after their NBA championship in 1972. In 1977, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. On September 17, 1977, Baylor married Elaine Cunningham from New Orleans, Louisiana. They had one daughter, Krystal.

In 1986, Baylor was named Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Buffalo Clippers (later the Los Angeles Clippers), in Buffalo, New York. He was with the Clippers in Buffalo and Los Angeles for 22 seasons. During the 2005-2006 season, the Clippers finished with a 47-35 record and appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 1976. In 2006, Baylor won the NBA Executive of the Year Award.

While Elgin Baylor never won a title, he is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time by basketball historians. Elgin Gay Baylor died on March 22, 2021 in Los Angeles of natural causes. He was 86.

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