In lieu of the regular season, Laker Nation has decided to take you back through Laker history to recap important games, record-breaking performances and memorable news from the past 64 years of the franchise. We understand that it’s not the basketball you may have been hoping for, but for the time being, it’s the closest we’ll get to reading about the Lakers on a basketball court.
NOVEMBER 4, 1971
ELGIN BAYLOR CALLS IT QUITS
Hobbled by long-standing knee injuries that occurred during the 1963-64 season, Baylor was finally forced to retire nine games into his 14th NBA season. Averaging 40 minutes a game throughout his career, calcium deposits in both knees had limited his ability to drive to the basket, and the quick starts and stops on the court demanded by a NBA career were nearly impossible by 1969, forcing Baylor to see 11 total games in his final two seasons in the league.
Baylor went to the NBA Finals eight times, leaving with no rings (Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics would be responsible for seven of those losses throughout the 1960s). Perhaps his most miraculous accomplishment, despite his many transformational moves on the court, was his fourth NBA season where Baylor was called into active duty as a US Army reserve. Despite playing only 48 games during the season solely on weekends, Baylor managed to average 38 points, 19 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
So just to put that in perspective, Baylor, for five months, would fly across the country on weekends to meet up with his team to play against the NBA’s premiere teams, only to fly back to the army barracks in his conscripted state of Washington to work as a reserve during the weeks. Amazing.
Baylor’s NBA career was filled with highs and lows. Despite never winning a championship, Baylor’s 27 points per game still ranks fourth all time in NBA history, his rebounds per game and assists per game totals also grace the top ten. What may be the greatest tragedy of any Laker’s career, the game following Baylor’s retirement would be the first of a still-standing NBA record 33-game winning streak for the Lakers. Furthermore, the 1971-72 Lakers would go on to win their first championship in Los Angeles, finally winning a ring for Laker legend Jerry West and a second for Wilt Chamberlain.
Quote of the Night: “If [Elgin] had turned me down then, I would have been out of business. The club would have gone bankrupt.” – Former Minneapolis Lakers owner Bob Short, on Baylor’s acceptance of joining the NBA over returning to Seattle University for this senior season.