Doug Krikorian / Viewpoint

A Talk With Jerry West And An Emotional Remembrance For Me Of Still Another Friend, Elgin Baylor, Who Is Gone

Mr. Krikorian, an award winning journalist and author of two books, earned multiple awards in his 22 years of writing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and 22 years for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He is happily retired.

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(March 30, 2021) -- The death of the great basketball player, Elgin Baylor, last week affected a particularly deep sadness in me, striking an emotional remembrance of a long ago time when there were limitless tomorrows and life for me seemed to be a ceaseless stream of daily joys.

It is said the must harrowing challenge one faces as the years zoom across one's chronological map is the physical deterioration of one's anatomy, which certainly is a daunting challenge.

But what I find more difficult to handle in the winter of my existence has been having to endure the departures of parents, relatives, and, oh, so many friends that I've been so close to across the decades.

I understand that as one grows older this is a reality that becomes a despairing part of your life, but one never becomes inured to such a phenomenon that invariably inspires thoughts about one's own mortality.

My pal of 53 years, Jerry West, summed up it best yesterday when we had a lengthy conversation on the phone about Elgin Baylor and other matters.

"Every time one of our friends die, you wonder when is it going to be our turn," said West , who is 82 and sharp as ever as he now consults for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Of course, Jerry West had a lengthy relationship with Elgin Baylor since they were teammates for 12 seasons with the Lakers and since they became two of the biggest names in the storied franchise's history and since they both have statues in front of the Staples Center.

"We never -- and I mean never -- had one cross word with each other during all those years we played together on the Lakers,'' says West. "Not one time. Elgin was such a gentle man, no pretensions whatsoever. A good man. A decent man. A quiet man. And, obviously, a great, great player."

"How would have Elgin done if he played today?" I asked West.

"He would have been dominant," he replied. "Remember, when we played, there was a lot of hand-checking on defense, a lot of grabbing and holding. You barely touch a guy now -- and the officials call a foul. Elgin would have been unstoppable. Heck, I wish I could have played under today's rules."

Jerry West paused momentarily and then said, "You know what one thing I want to say about Elgin -- he had a great sense of humor. That would come out if you knew him well. He was more guarded with people he didn't know well."

I often teased Elgin Baylor during my tenure as a beat writer covering the Lakers for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner about how old he was and about how he was one of my childhood heroes.

"You had better tastes as a youngster than you do now," he would reply with a laugh.

Of course, Baylor was only a mere 10 years older than me, which in those days made him seem ancient to me. I mean, he already was 34 when I met him!

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During the years I covered him, he had already undergone a couple of knee surgeries, and he no longer was the dynamic player he was when he arrived in Los Angeles with the Lakers from Minneapolis in 1960.

He, along with Jerry West, soon would turn a struggling franchise that actually on occasion played in modest places like the Shrine Auditorium into a thriving one with their stellar accomplishments on the hardwoods.

While West was a sleek, quick, smooth operative with an extraordinarily accurate jump shot from any range -- think Steph Curry --- who performed his labors in a graceful, efficient manner, Baylor was the spectacular ringmaster with his vast array of moves, shots, drives and dunks that introduced a revolutionary new style of play to the NBA.

He was the precursor of the Julius Irvings and Michael Jordans and Kobe Bryants with his incredible leaping ability and his gravitational-defying ability to hang in the air and his unique other skills that thrilled audiences.

I drove down from Fresno with my pal Joe Monis, and saw Elgin Baylor and Jerry West for the first time on April 15, 1962 for Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Boston Celtics at the old Sports Arena that was next to the Coliseum.

Baylor had just come off a record-setting 61-point effort in leading the Lakers to 126-121 win over the Celtics in Boston to go up 3-2 in the series.

We purchased a pair of $5 tickets for the inflated price of $20 each at the old Murray's Drugstore across the street from the Sports Arena.

We sat in the rafters -- two rows from the top -- but still were excited to witness in person such luminaries of the sport as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, as well, of course, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.

If the Lakers won, they would bring their first world title to Los Angeles -- and it seemed as though they were destined to do so as Baylor and West had a commanding first half in propelling the Lakers to a 65-57 advantage.

But, alas, Bill Russell would take over the backboards -- he would wind up with 24 rebounds -- and Sam Jones would take over the scoring---he would wind up with 35 points---and the Lakers would wind up on the short end of the 119-105 score.

Baylor and West certainly played exceptionally as they each scored 34 points, but three days later in Boston Bill Russell again proved to be too defensively overwhelming in Game 7 when he wound up with 40 rebounds---including a record 19 in one quarter---in leading the Celtics to a 110-107 overtime win.

"That was the most disheartening loss of my life," Baylor once told me. "We should have won it. In the final seconds of regulation time, our guard Frank Selvy had a wide-open 10-foot jump shot he'd make 99 out of 100 times. This is the one time he would miss."

I first met Elgin Baylor on my first road trip with Lakers on Oct. 17, 1968, when the team flew to Philadelphia for the opener the next night against the 76ers.

Chick Hearn introduced him to me, and later on that flight I was invited to join him, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in a game of hearts since a fourth player was needed and I happened to be the only other person on the team's traveling party that knew how to play it.

Elgin Baylor and I wound up playing a lot of cards with each other during the next couple of years, since I considered myself a gin rummy master.

Elgin would expose me as a rank amateur, as he beat me on a consistent basis, albeit no money was involved, which, alas, wasn't the case with Chick Hearn's broadcasting partner at the time, Hot Rod Hundley, who always clipped me for my travel per diem even if it took him until 6 in the morning to do so.

I always savored talking sports with Baylor, and always remembered his comments one evening as I sat next to him on the Laker team bus coming back from a game at The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

He saw a bunch of kids playing basketball in a lighted playground, and said, ``See that. That was me throughout my youth in Washington D.C. I drove my mother crazy. In the summer time, I often would get up early in the morning and play basketball late into the evenings. I guess that's how I got pretty good at it.''

While Elgin Baylor and I maintained a cordial relationship throughout the decades -- I even was invited to his 50th birthday party at the then fashionable Cockatoo Inn in Hawthorne in September of 1984 -- he did I'm sure become annoyed with me before Game 5 of the 1968-69 Western Conference finals between the Atlanta Hawks and Lakers.

While the Lakers had a 3-1 advantage in the series, Baylor had been playing poorly and, natch, I pointed out that particular fact in a less than flattering article about him in the Herald Examiner.

Well, Elgin came out in a spirited fashion in Game 5, hitting 14 of 18 shots and winding up with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in leading the Lakers to a clinching 104-96 win.

When I interviewed him afterwards, he just grinned impishly at me.

That was typical Elgin Baylor.

He always was a class act, even when I often criticized his work during his 22 years---1986 to 2008---as the general manager of the then Donald T Sterling Clippers.

He always greeted me with a smile, and we'd always drifted off into subjects other than the Clippers and Donald T Sterling.

And now Elgin Baylor is gone, enhancing the emptiness that too often engulfs me these days when such developments cause such sorrow.

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Support really independent news in Long Beach. No one in's ownership, reporting or editorial decision-making has ties to development interests, advocacy groups or other special interests; or is seeking or receiving benefits of City development-related decisions; or holds a City Hall appointive position; or has contributed sums to political campaigns for Long Beach incumbents or challengers. isn't part of an out of town corporate cluster and no one its ownership, editorial or publishing decisionmaking has been part of the governing board of any City government body or other entity on whose policies we report. is reader and advertiser supported. You can help keep really independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.

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