The Los Angeles Lakers recently immortalized another franchise icon in Elgin Baylor with a statue outside of Staples Center. A plethora of NBA Hall-of-Famers were on hand for the ceremony, including the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell and Jerry West.
The latter, of course, teamed up with Baylor for 12 seasons, and together, formed one of the best duos in the league. The pair combined for dozens of accolades during their playing days with the Lakers.
But West most remembers Baylor for being a standout, model citizen that helped him get accustomed to the NBA level as a rookie. “In 1960, coming out of a state that was kind of backwards in a way, and never traveling very much and not having the privilege to see Mr. Baylor play when he was a rookie, I had an opportunity to get drafted that changed my life forever,” West said.
“But also, more importantly, to be around someone, that, I will tell you now, there’s no greater admiration for any person that I know than Elgin Baylor. If you had the privilege of being in the locker room with him or being around him, you would’ve really known how special this man was.”
West believes his transition to the NBA was a difficult challenge. Leaving his small hometown in West Virginia for the bright lights of Los Angeles was a big task, but Baylor, despite his superstardom, always offered a helping hand.
“A scared rookie, who didn’t even know if he belonged in the league or not, to walk into a locker room and have someone like this man who welcomed you with opened arms, you would’ve never known that he was a star,” West explained, becoming emotional during his speech.
“You would’ve never known that he was different than most players that played the game. But you would’ve known that he was different as a human being.”
Baylor is often recognized as one of the most underrated superstars to ever suit up in the NBA. “There’s two players I’ve always thought when you looked at them on the basketball court, they were regal looking,” West said.
“Elgin was one, and Mr. Russell was two. There are a lot of wonderful players that have played this game but I don’t think there’s ever been anyone who combined his incredible play with being the kind of person he was. He never changed. Never changed. The humility, the strength of character.”