He spent some of his basketball career above the rim, some of it behind a desk, all of it in limbo.
Elgin Baylor was a Lakers star before the Lakers were stars. He was a Clippers boss before the Clippers were boss. He was always Los Angeles’ other idol, its other general manager, its afterthought legend, the guy who laid the cement for the Staples Center statues and quietly watched it dry.
Baylor rarely owned the spotlight here, but Friday, he will command it in startling fashion.
He’ll be selling everything it shines upon.
You want to buy his 1971-72 NBA championship ring, the only lasting memento of his only Lakers title? It will cost you at least $40,000.
How about his 1959 All-Star game co-MVP trophy, the only time he earned the highest honor in the league’s most prestigious game? The bidding starts at $10,000.
Through Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, beginning Friday at 10 a.m., Baylor is selling 358 pieces of personal memorabilia, including his rings, his plaques and his bowling shoes.
Rarely have the contents of a Lakers legend’s closet been so publicly unearthed. Never has the foundation of basketball’s greatest franchise been so available for purchase.
It’s strange, a yard sale of items spread out across the lawn by a player who spent his career with an organization that keeps everything within the family. It’s almost unsettling, this dignified former Laker placing his finest moments up for bid.
“I’m constantly getting calls from people interested in my stuff, and I finally thought, it’s time,” said Baylor, 78. “I’ve had some of these things for 60 years. It’s time to share some of them with the fans who have been so wonderful to me.”
He knows what you’re thinking. He knows you’re thinking, poor Elgin. He knows you think he is selling his life’s work because he needs the money, or he’s worried about his heirs paying an inheritance tax on the items.
He knows you’re thinking he’s desperate. But Baylor says he’s fine. He always says he’s fine.
“You’re thinking there’s something financial going on here, but it’s not true,” he said. “I have no financial problems at all. None of that. Seriously.”
You want his simple but powerful Hall of Fame certificate dated 1976? It’s going for at least $5,000.
How about his 1958 NCAA title game ring from Seattle University, acquired during the school’s last trip to the Final Four? The bidding is at $3,000.
“I’ve had so much enjoyment with these things over the years. Now it’s time to let someone else enjoy them,” Baylor said.
Yet that enjoyment has never seemed complete. Baylor’s career was one of near misses and nice tries, magic but not Magic, a big fella but not Kareem, clutch but not Mr. Clutch.
Yes, he won a championship with the Lakers, but he retired from that team with knee problems after nine games. The very next game, the Lakers began their record 33-game winning streak.
Yes, he was executive of the year with the Clippers in 2006, but he left before he could enjoy their current success.
Yes, he will be remembered as one of the best basketball men to ever grace this city. But because he spent considerable time with both the Lakers and the Clippers, that career nearly left him as a man without a team.
Shortly after he resigned from the Clippers in 2008, he effectively prevented the Lakers from hiring him back because he was involved in a discrimination lawsuit against Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Baylor’s claim was eventually rejected by a jury in 2011, but by then, he had been out of the game for more than two years, and the Lakers had no appropriate position for him.
Today, he does occasional appearances for the Lakers, but he attended only one game at Staples Center last year and, unlike Jerry West or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has become an invisible cornerstone.
“Every place I go, everyone looks at me as a Laker. That’s how I started; that’s where I am now,” Baylor said. “Nobody mentions the Clippers.”
The Lakers probably think that offering Baylor an honorary position would be considered an insult, but what if they brought his years of basketball knowledge back to the team in a more official capacity, as a sort of senior advisor?
“It would be a really fine gesture, but I don’t know what I would say,” Baylor said. “I really like my life.”
That life will be pounded out publicly at the end of an auction gavel Friday, both the great and the gaudy.
His rookie-of-the-year trophy is for sale. His NBA 50 greatest players ring is for sale. Even his lifetime NBA pass is being sold, as if he doesn’t plan on seeing many more games.
“I’m in perfect health; everything is excellent. This is just something I want to do,” Baylor said.
There are also items from the bottom of that closet, a bowling ball, baseball cards, a tennis certificate and, yes, in a one-time-only special, two signed Eric Piatkowski game shoes going for $25.
It’s worth a trip to https://www.julienslive.com to check it all out. Just be prepared to feel funny about perusing it, especially after hearing his answer to the question: What item will you miss most?
“I wouldn’t want to mention it,” Elgin Baylor said, and you’re glad he doesn’t.