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Jerry West on Elgin Baylor: ‘A great human being’

Elgin Baylor leaps for a shot at the basket.
Lakers forward Elgin Baylor in a game against the Celtics on April 19, 1962.
(Associated Press)

A somber Jerry West collected his thoughts as he reflected on his friendship and the bond he developed with former Lakers teammate Elgin Baylor.

Baylor died Monday at 86, and West was saddened by the news but also, he said, grateful for the time the two of them had together.

West and Baylor played 11-plus seasons together with the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming known as two of the best players in the game.

“I’m very sad,” said West, reached by phone Monday afternoon. “I guess I’m grateful to have shared some incredible times with him. He was just one of those unique individuals.

“I just learned so much from him about how to carry yourself as a player, a person. Most of all, the times we spent together after games. … Oh my God. The respect you gain for someone like him. He went out of his way to be helpful to me in terms of growing up, sharing things with me, which I know I will cherish the rest of my life, I know that. He was just a great human being.”

Baylor retired after playing in just nine games of the 1971-72 season. The Lakers finally won their first NBA championship in Los Angeles that season, beating the New York Knicks in the Finals.

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West, 82, said he wondered how Baylor felt about missing out on the opportunity to win a championship. The Lakers had lost in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics six times during the 1960s.

“I couldn’t ever ask him this question: I often wonder how he felt to see us win a championship and he only played about [nine] games that year,” West said. “When he retired, we won 33 straight games. I wonder what he felt like. With me, I would have probably felt like, ‘Oh, my God, how can I be just this incredible player and, without me, we win 33 straight games and win a championship.’

“I could never bring myself to ask him that. Never. I’m sure he felt like. … Who knows what he felt like? This will be a very reflective day for me, that’s for sure.”

Lakers legend and former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor died Monday at 86.


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