FILE : Former Los Angeles Lakers player Jerry West speaks at the unveiling of his bronze statue while Los Angeles Lakers legend and NBA Hall of Fame member Elgin Baylor looks on during a ceremony at the Staples Center’s Star Plaza on the sixth floor. April 2018 in Los Angeles, California, listen. (Photo: Jane Kamin-Oncia/Getty Images)
When I heard the news this morning, I was, of course, stunned, said a saddened West via Zoom. But as more and more people knew how much I loved and respected this man, it got harder and harder every day, I can tell you.
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West was picked second by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1960 – just before the team moved to Los Angeles – and joined the team two years after Baylor, who was picked first in 1958.
I remember when I first came to L.A.. – you know, young, naive – and for some reason we had an almost instant relationship where he took care of me and was like a brother, told me how to cross the creek you take and this rock and that rock and that rock, West said. And then when the team started getting recognition and started winning games, just being on the same field as someone I idolized, you can imagine me sitting in the locker room and after a few years, I’m on the All-Pro team and I’m watching someone I idolized and I get to play with someone every day – very special.
But their bond went beyond basketball.
He was a prince, I never heard him say derogatory things about anyone, West said. If there are times when players, make you so angry that you want to burst as an opponent, he never did.
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And sitting in the locker room with him after terrible losses, and especially when we were trying to win the L.A. City Championship, nobody had the chance to have the kind of relationship I had with him, and feel those terrible thoughts of defeat when you just want to win for once, West continued. And I think the last thing I would say about playing with him is that it’s rare these days for two players who have been All-Stars for several years to stay together, and that creates an even stronger bond with the player. But when you’re with him, you can’t help but love him. They just couldn’t do it.
West also said that playing with Baylor and his other teammates has taught him a lot about race and racism.
People wondered because we weren’t out after the games, we were at the end, there were probably five or six people in a room playing cards and stuff, or talking, he said. And some of the things we talked about, I heard and saw as a kid, and I really couldn’t understand how people could treat people, anyone, let alone a minority, and what a proud man he was.
Mr. Baylor is survived by his wife, Elaine; his children, Crystal, Allison and Alan; and his sister, Gladys Baylor Barrett.
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I am so sorry for his wife Elaine, his family, his friends and the people who loved and admired him, West said.
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