Exciting times in Los Angeles! The Lakers, on the precipice of what could be a ridiculously successful return to championship glory, are straightening out all of their split ends. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as we noted earlier this week, will be on hand to reveal his new statue on Nov. 16, when the Lakers take on the Phoenix Suns in newly acquired Steve Nash's first game against his former team. Following that, at halftime of a Lakers game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 28, Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes will see his number 52 raised to the rafters, retired and never to be worn by a Laker again.
The biggie? Shaquille O'Neal's number 34 will be retired on April 2, when the Lakers take on the Dallas (a city O'Neal lived in as a child) Mavericks. Between now and then Shaq and Dwight Howard will have plenty of time to work on their tact, poise and reason.
And from there, because we're in the business of leaving no aspect of the Staples Center un-tribute-o-tized, we have to wonder if the Lakers will find a little nook for Elgin Baylor. Baylor's number 22 has been up in the rafters for nearly 40 years now, and though we're not exactly in the Kareem-business of musing about statues, a yearly Baylor night (or two, or twenty-two) might be worth the Lakers' time. A courtside seat, a warm embrace following the nastiness that followed his frustrating turn working for the Los Angeles Clippers, and perhaps a scoreboard showing of a highlight package like this:
Baylor's numbers were amplified a bit by the high possession counts of the day, and his game sticks out because he was clearly jumping higher than just about anyone playing in his day, but Baylor was the absolute business.
Didn't get to the NBA, because of military duties, until he was 24; and yet still piled up massive amounts of records (including a still unmatched 61 points in an NBA Finals game) despite his relatively late start. Averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists as a 6-5 forward that constantly played through knee issues that crippled several careers back during his era. And Baylor, saddest of all, was forced to retire at age 37 just nine games into what would have been his first championship season. Had he hung around, if only on the end of the bench, Baylor would have taken in a deserved ring during Los Angeles' 1971-72 title run.
He's left with the knowledge that, as the video above showcases, he was more or less the cat that started it all. Athletic, versatile play. Improvisation from the wing spot. Not actually knowing what you're going to do with the ball even after jumping in the air, and still making it all work in the end. Setting the stage for videos like this, 40 and 50 years on.
Come 'round to Staples, Elgin. The Lakers are in a giving mood, these days. I'm sure they'd have you.
(HT to Marc Spears for sending along the Lakers' press release.)
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