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The greatest athlete this city ever produced hasn’t had anything to do with us for a long, long time.
Spingarn’s own Elgin Baylor is on the witness stand in a Los Angeles courtroom this week in his ugly trial against a former boss, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Baylor sued Sterling for discrimination after his 2008 firing as the Clippers general manager, a job Baylor held for 22 mostly horrendous seasons.
Baylor had initially said Sterling fired him for racial reasons, but that portion of the lawsuit was dropped in favor of an age-bias complaint. Baylor is 76.
The Clippers and Baylor were punchlines in the years Baylor ran the team’s personnel department. But Baylor will never be a joke in D.C.
He graduated from Spingarn in 1954, so he played all his high school basketball in the segregated era beforeBrown v. Board of Education. But while the Washington Post and other mainstream newspapers ignored him, Baylor became more than a legend in black Washington in his teens, just from the way he played the game on the playgrounds.
It was a way nobody here or anywhere else had ever played it before.
“Let me try to put this modestly,” fellow Spingarn alum and college teammate Lloyd Murphy once told me. “Elgin was a god around here.”
Baylor first left here to play for the College of Idaho and University of Seattle, then was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958 with the overall top pick. He retired from the NBA in 1971.
And, because of what he accomplished during his days on the court and not in a court, Baylor has also been in the news lately for reasons other than his lawsuit. Kevin Garnett passed Baylor ( 23,149 career points) for 21st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Monday, though Garnett’s scoring average (19.6 points per game) leaves him about four dunks per night behind Baylor’s 27.4 ppg.
And for all the commotion about Kevin Love‘s just-ended 53-game streak of finishing in double figures in points and rebounds, Baylor averaged a double-double for an entire season 11 times. His best stats year came in the 1960-1961 season, when Baylor put up 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds per game. From 1959 to 1969, he was All-NBA first team every year except one (1966).
Baylor never reconnected with D.C. once he left for college. In a 1999 interview, I asked him why he stays away from a town where so many still folks love him.
“I’m just busy, I guess,” Baylor told me.