- Elgin Baylor: The Man Who Changed Basketball by Bijan C. Bayne
Bijan Bayne’s latest contribution to basketball history fills a perplexing gap: that is, why wasn’t there a good, well-researched biography of Elgin Baylor before this? Although Bayne doesn’t answer the question, he does provide a readable, interesting, and significant biography of one of the greatest and most innovative players who ever played, whom I was fortunate enough to see in person while still in my teens in Chicago. Bayne has utilized a great number of resources (newspapers, magazines, and books) to put together a reasonably seamless and well-organized look at Baylor. It would have been nice, however, to have more personal interviews (he did at least one, it appears), rather than the second-hand interviews that he often utilizes.
As for the story itself, Bayne follows a straightforward approach from Baylor’s youth to his last professional basketball position as general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers of Donald Sterling. Throughout these periods, Baylor gains a reputation for his basketball skills but also for his involvement with civil rights and his basic human decency. Players, front office personnel, and journalists continue to emphasize what a fine person Baylor is and how he was always a leader on his squads. As for his civil rights activity, it seemed to [End Page 110] start before such a movement was widespread, with his notions that he was a human being who should be treated with dignity and respect, as all humans should. He not only was active in civil rights but was an early proponent of leading basketball clinics at inner-city locales both to help and demonstrate to such youngsters their worth and place in the world.
As for Baylor’s revolutionary manner of play, Bayne sums it up well in his last chapter, drawing on a number of keen observers of the game, including stars like Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Kevin Durant, all of whom were seen as models of both innovative play and proper decorum, to extol Baylor’s ground-breaking play. Bayne notes, “Elgin Baylor’s impact on basketball encompasses playing style, marketing, labor relations, and the professional game’s evolution to major-league status” (247). That, indeed, is a fine summary of Baylor’s contributions to basketball and the story that Bayne tells.
Bayne provides the numbers to back up the assertion of Baylor’s greatness, such as that, between 1960 and 1964, he scored at least twenty points in forty-nine consecutive playoff games and, in the 1962 postseason, he scored at least thirty points in eleven consecutive games. (Jordan’s best was eight straight.) Bayne also notes that Baylor’s unique and inspirational play could not be seen as mere numbers (120).
A major disappointment is that there are no footnotes; instead, each chapter has a bibliography, without referenced pages of specific quotes and often omitting some referred-to works. Assuming that the publisher has chosen this manner of presentation, Bayne cannot be faulted, but it is quite bothersome. Also missing is an appendix of Baylor’s career statistics for both his college and pro careers. Nevertheless, this is a book that deserves reading by historians of basketball and American culture.