Basketball Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers legend Elgin Baylor is auctioning off a massive amount of his basketball memorabilia on Friday, in a move that is more than a little sad. Baylor insists that his motives aren’t driven by financial problems, but given the relative pittance that he made as an All-Star Lakers forward in the 1960s and his time spent working under Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling as the team’s general manager, it’s not hard to see why wouldn’t turn down an opportunity like this, regardless of his financial standing.
Still, as a basketball history junkie that often writes while facing a wall that features James Naismith’s framed original basketball rules staring back at him, working through a book’s worth of auction items at Julien’s Auctions website was a tough bit of research. Even if the items – championship rings, scads of trophies, cool 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s-era certificates and pictures – are astonishingly cool.
Baylor discussed the decision to auction off his mementos with the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke earlier this week:
"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.
Plaschke is right, as the Hall of Fame certificate seems wildly out of place in comparison to the pomp and circumstance (and, literal, red carpet walk) that leads to the modern, shoe company-influenced Hall of Fame ceremonies. And while there are some joke-y additions to the catalog (Plaschke points toward some game worn sneakers signed by Erik Piatkowski, Barry Petchesky at Deadspin worked deeper into the catalog than I did and found the same contribution from Tom Gugliotta), by and large the offerings are pretty spectacular.
Spectacular enough that they shouldn’t be scattered amongst various highest bidders.
That shoe company that drives the USA Basketball and NBA political system should step in and try to grab these for the Hall of Fame. Or the Lakers and Clippers, all full of bluster and cheapness and axes to grind with Baylor, should bury the damn hatchet before the auctioneer strikes the gavel. These things need to be picked up and put into an exhibit in Los Angeles, on the Lakers’ and Clippers’ dime.
Joke all you want about Baylor’s tenure as GM of the Clippers, but he’s given so much to that franchise and that city that Staples Center deserves to have some sort of tribute in place to the legend. After walking through Bankers Life Fieldhouse’s many Indiana basketball exhibits while covering Indiana Pacers playoff games over the last month and a half, it’s obvious that these things can work, and it seems like a fitting tribute. Staples Center – or, at least, the Lakers and Clippers’ relatively spartan practice facilities – would serve as a proper home for these sorts of things.
Of course, that would depend on people with a great deal of money doing the right thing for a person that helped them make a great deal of money. Probably not going to happen.
The auction takes place on Friday.