Elgin Baylor, 83, has finally written his life story and talks about his time in Seattle, growing up with racism in Washington, D.C., and his NBA career, including his friendship with Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
For years, friends had asked basketball great Elgin Baylor when he was going to write a book.
But it took a nudge from his wife, Elaine, to finally make it happen.
“My wife said, ‘I think it would be a good idea if you did it,’ and so I finally did,” Baylor said Sunday, at the end of a visit to Seattle.
It was here where Baylor first entered the national spotlight, leading Seattle University to the NCAA title game in 1958 before becoming a star with the NBA’s Lakers.
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So at age 83, his autobiography, “Hang Time,” hit bookstores in April, the same month he was honored by the Los Angeles Lakers with a statue outside Staples Center.
Baylor, admittedly shy and long perceived as guarded when it comes to dealing with the media, was refreshingly honest and open in his compelling book. Some parts were hard to read, particularly accounts of the racism he endured while growing up in Washington, D.C., including watching police order his father to beat his sister after she had slapped someone who had spit on her and referred to her with a racial slur.
And some parts were a lot of fun. The stories about fellow legends, and tales from his three years in Seattle that will be of particular interest around here.
“My wife and I discussed it, and I was going to be totally honest if I was going to write a book,” said Baylor, who wrote it with Alan Eisenstock. “Things happened (in my life) that I wasn’t particularly pleased with, but it wasn’t hard to write about because it is in the past and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Baylor looks back on his time at Seattle U as some of the best years of his life.
“I had a lot of friends here, and it is just a very nice city — except for the rain,” he said. “People here are very accepting and I didn’t experience any racism. Not at all. The players, we all got along great, and we hung out socially. We were family, and it was some of the greatest times in my life.”
For Baylor, it was fun looking back and going over the details of his three years in Seattle after transferring from College of Idaho. His first year, while ineligible to play for Seattle U, he played for AAU team Westside Ford, where his coach was legendary Johnny O’Brien, the first player in NCAA history to score more than 1,000 points in a season.
“We got to be great friends,” Baylor said Sunday of O’Brien.
One of Baylor’s teammates on the 1956 Westside Ford team was Seattle’s Bill Wright, who in 1959 won the U.S. Public Links Championship, becoming the first black athlete to win a national golf championship.
Both being competitive, they argued one night about whose car was faster, and decided to settle it with a drag race down Aurora Avenue in the wee hours.
That didn’t work out, as police interrupted the competition. But it didn’t hinder what became a long friendship between Wright and Baylor.
“We didn’t even think about how dangerous it could be,” Baylor said.
Baylor began another friendship during his time in Seattle. The Chieftains were playing in Corvallis, Ore., in the NCAA tournament in 1956, the year Baylor was ineligible. He had made the trip with the team and wanted to watch the great Bill Russell, a star for the University of San Francisco.
Baylor managed to get Russell’s hotel-room number, and the two stayed up until early the next morning, talking basketball and life.
Later, with Baylor in the NBA and playing against Russell’s Boston Celtics for the first time, he had a much different experience. Russell ignored Baylor, wouldn’t look at him or even shake his hand before the game.
“He just turned his back and walked away,” said Baylor, who lives in Southern California.
Baylor was shaken by the treatment by someone he considered a friend. But to Russell, on the court every opponent was an enemy.
“After the game, someone is banging on our locker-room door, and it’s Bill Russell,” Baylor recalled Sunday. “He comes over to me, and says, ‘Where are we going to eat?’ That’s the way he is, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
That story, too, is in the book.
After two of the greatest college-basketball seasons in history at Seattle U, he became one of the NBA’s all-time greats, retiring as the league’s No. 3 all-time scorer and No. 5 rebounder.
He then became a coach and a general manager in the league. There was a lot to tell, although when it comes to teammates, he admits he didn’t tell everything.
But when it comes to him, it is all there. He joked that if people want to know about him, he can just tell them to read his book. And after years of being asked about writing a book, Baylor is happy he did.
“Now that it’s done, yes, I am glad I did it,” he said.