THE MIS-EDUCATION OF ELGIN BAYOR: INSIDE SPORTS THE TIE THAT BINDS!
It was 2 am Tuesday morning I was sitting in front of my computer when I decided to check my email box for the last time before heading to bed–the first email read, “Harold, why don’t you do a piece on Elgin? When I came up, he was, not only my favorite basketball player, but my favorite athlete too (He and Willie Wood). You know baseball was the thing back then. Elgin, Willie Mays, and Lenny Moore were my favorites. I was a Baltimore Colts fan. My brother liked Cleveland, so I couldn’t pick Jim Brown. I know Elgin’s legend has died out for the youngsters nowadays, but he is more than deserving of a final tribute, from those of us who are still left to remember how truly great he was. He was in a category with Wilt, Russell and Oscar, without question. You, more than anyone, should know that. In another strange way, he was a lot like the one-armed bandit, only Elgin had two arms. They were both D. C. legends, with talent that was freakish. I remember the day he scored 64 points. Everybody was up Ridge Road saying they were “Elgin Baylor.” (But in my mind I was the real Elgin Baylor).
I know Bing, Austin Carr, Reggie Rucker, Dantley and a lot of the few ballplayers left from those times, would really appreciate the memories. It would be a great Post-Black History tribute to one of our greatest athletes. The D. C. legends know that Elgin was the best to come out of D. C. This would be another feather in your own hat when it comes to the real history of DC.
As I try to be unbiased and thorough in my assessment of all time great pro basketball players, I just can’t leave him off of my top 10 list. I heard Dantley, and others on the news say a little about him and they felt like me. John Thompson used to say that you put Elgjn at the top, skipped 2nd, 3rd and 4th, then continued your list of all time greats with number 5 and so on.
I vaguely remember seeing him play in the pros. I must have been around 8-10 years old, or maybe a little older. My cousin used to take me to sports games. He was a semi-pro baseball player, maybe a little older than Elgin.
His death reminded me of how great he was.
Harold, you knew Elgin personally so who would be better to do this than Harold Bell? You are still here today to do things like this.
Harold, when I close my eyes, I can still see Elgin bouncing that ball up and down, in cadence with his famous head bobbing up and down, just before driving in for the kill. Even Wilt didn’t want to mess with that.
Lord God, thank you for Elgin, may he rest in peace. Amen.” Bro. Lawrence Brown
ELGIN BAYLOR HANGING IN DC BEFORE HE HUNG IN THE NBA!
Just in case there is someone in the DMV and they are not aware of who is the greatest basketball player ever to lace up a pair of basketball shoes in this city–Elgin “Rabbit” Baylor is his name. The late John Thompson, the fraud of the city was right, when he said, “when there is a conversation about the top five or top 10 players in DC, you start with Elgin.” I am here to remind you who he was.
I remember Elgin, the memories start when I was a student at Brown Middle School in NE DC. Every weekday morning I would take the bus from my NE Parkside Housing project to 24th and Benning Road. The first landmark I would walk past would be the Langston Golf Course, the home of golfing legend, Lee Elder. The next landmark would be Spingarn High School the home of Lieutenant/Coach Dave Brown and Elgin Baylor. I would stop and mingle with the students, some I knew from my neighborhood. They would be hanging out in front of the building and on the sidewalk leading into the school. There was this cop, officer Ray Dixon who was the keeper of “The Hill.” It seems like he would eyeball me like he knew I didn’t belong among this crowd. He would bark “Keep it moving” and he was never smiling–I kept it moving!
After school was out at Brown I would sit on the grass above the Spingarn practice field and watch the athletes practice baseball, football, or the track and field guys workout on the fringes of the field. It was there I discovered my older brother Bobby playing second base for the Armstrong baseball team with the great Wilie Wood as a teammate. I never knew he was playing baseball for Armstrong because he lived with my grandmother. Watching my big brother play inspired me to become an athlete.
The one place I wanted to be was in the Spingarn gym watching Elgin practice or play in a game. Every time I attempted to find a way into the gym it seems like Officer Dixon could smell my presence and give me that look.
My Spingarn teammate and friend, Andrew Johnson lived in Langston Terrace, the Spingarn gym was a few minutes away from where he lived. Langston Terrace is the second oldest black housing project in America (Atlanta 1933 & DC 1938). Andrew recently described to me how he sat in the Spingarn gym and watched Elgin score 64 points against rival Phelps–priceless!
I remember the day Armstrong played the BIG game against Spingarn and the One-Armed Bandit, Gary Mays became an American folk hero. The morning of the game I got off the bus and started my usual journey to Brown and all I heard was talk of the BIG game being played that evening for the championship. George Deal a teammate of Gary remembers, Armstrong Coach Charlie Baltimore preparing for the rematch and giving specific instructions to Gary, “If Elgin goes to the bathroom, I want you right there behind him.” Coach Baltimore had not forgotten earlier in the year Elgin had torched Armstrong for 45 points.
Deal, also remembered Elgin being an excellent free throw shooter. “We beat him up pretty good that game and most of those 18 points came from the free throw line. I never saw him miss a free throw until he got to the pros!”
Elgin was averaging in the neighborhood of 30 points a game when Spingarn and Armstrong had the face-off on The Hill that day. Spingarn lost by 3 points killing their undefeated season. Gary was given the credit for the defensive stop, but according to Deal, “the media tried to give the credit to another player and playground legend, Terry Hatchett.”
Amstrong and Spingarn High Schools are the only public high schools in America that can showcase four pro athletes in the pro sports hall of fames. There are Len Ford and Willie Wood in the NFL Hall of Fame (Armstrong), Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing (Spingarn) in the NBA Hall of Fame. The common denominator, both schools have been shut down and that important history has been lost.
I never had the opportunity to be an eye witness and watch Elgin torch Armstrong for 45 points, Phelps for 64 points, or watch the One Arm Bandit literally hold him to 18 points in a championship game, but I was there to watch him perform his magic during his tour of the DC basketball courts from Lincoln, Bannecker, Park View, Henry T Blow, Brown and Kelley Miller playgrounds.
It was at Kelley Miller where he and Wilt Chamberlain would go head to head. Every basketball fan and sports writer and talk show host in the DMV claim they were there or had first hand knowledge. I had a heads up from my long time friend Dave Harris who was Wilt’s roommate at Kansas on their time of arrival at Kelley Miller. When they pulled up in that bright red convertible Oldsmobile on 49th street NE, Dave threw me the keys to park the car.
I read where some of these wanna-bees claim they played against Elgin on the playgrounds like Kelley Miller, Henry T Blow, Brown and Watts, the domains of playground basketball in NE DC. If Elgin was there nine times out of ten I was there. I introduced Elgin to the Brown basketball court located directly across the street from my Brown Middle School. He had never played there until he moved to Mayfair Mansions in NE in 1958.
I got to know Elgin that summer of shortly after his NBA rookie year and he married Ruby Saunder. Wilt was a member of the wedding party. After the wedding Elgin and Ruby moved to a housing development in NE DC called Mayfair Mansions. The development was located directly across the street from my Parkside Housing Project.
Elgin had taken a summer job with the DC Recreation Department, and worked evenings at Bannecker Playground in NW DC. His introduction to Brown playground basketball–I led the way. I would be on the corner of Haynes Street and Kenilworth Avenue in the evenings when he would be heading to work. I would hitch a ride with him to 24th and Benning Road. I would then walk from Benning Road to Brown playground for an evening of basketball.
This ride share would go on for the entire summer. There were times I would be running a little late and he would be parked waiting for me. One evening he dropped me off at the playground to check things out, but no one was there. He got out the car and got a basketball out of the trunk. We shot baskets for about 20 minutes and then other players started to arrive. He left the basketball with me and went to work–that was his introduction to Brown.
The one thing Elgin and I had in common was our high school Coach Dave Brown. There would be no Elgin Baylor and Harold Bell without Dave Brown. With all these so called know it alls as it relates to the legend of Elgin Baylor, how many in media or other wise have you heard or read about the man who guilded him to the NBA–Coach Dave Brown?
Dave Brown was his first coach at Phelps the first two years. He left for Spingarn in 1953, leaving behind Elgin’s playmaker guard, Maxwell Banks aka Max Julien. According to J. A. Preston a native Washingtonian an outstanding track and field star at Armstrong High School, Max played an important role in Phelps’ success those first two years.
J. A. was also an accomplished actor on stage and screen (A Few Good Men and the Spook That Sat by the Door). He says, “Maxwell was one of the best guards in the city bar none. He was the cornerstone of that Phelps team with Baylor. He would go on to become best known as an actor for his off-Broadway performances, but it was Hollywood where he received critically acclaimed fame for his role as Goldie in the1973 blaxploitation film,’The Mack.’ He also appeared in Def Jam’s How to be a Player. Max Julien was also a great writer, he wrote and produced Cleopatra Jones starring Tamra Dobson and Bernie Casey. He and comedian the late Richard Pryor became great friends.”
Timing was everything, Elgin and his 1954 teammates never got the opportunity to play against their white counter parts in the DMV. They were one year away when my Spingarn teammate Spotswood Bolling a student at Sousa Middle School in NE was the lead petitioner in Bolling vs Sharpe when it became a landmark in the United States Surpreme Court case. The attorneys argued that the Constitution prohibited segregated public schools in the District of Columbia. The decision was originally argued on December 10-11, 1952 a year before Brown vs Board of Education, but Bolling vs Sharpe was re-argued again in 1953 before it was passed, cheating Elgin and the black DC Public high school athletes out of their just do on an “Even Playing Field!”
With Coach Brown it was always tough love–but love never the less. There are rumors that Elgin ran afoul of coach during a game, and at half-time Coach Brown settled the matter by locking his star player in the lockerroom. I could not verify that rumor, but I can verify being locked in the school bus during half-time of a football game against our rival Phelps. The game was played at Eastern High School. The team won without me and Coach Brown got my undivided attention. Thanks to him I didn’t go to hell in a hurry as predicted by Mr. Stinson.
I would not see Elgin again until my freshman year at Winston-Salem State University in 1960. The Minneapolis Lakers were in Greensboro, N. C. for an exhibition game before heading to their new home in L. A. I decided to travel to Greenesboro the home of the N. C. A & T aggies to see if I could catch up with Elgin. The drive was 30 miles north of Winston-Salem.
First, I tried to convince my homeboy Donald “Duck” Wills to go with me, but he begged off claiming he had a date. I was disappointed because Donald’s brother was the great shortstop for the L. A. Dodgers, Maury “Sonny” Wills. Elgin and Maury were great friends from their Stonewall days in DC. Maury was a great all-around student/athlete at Cardozo. He played football for the Stonewall, AC football team during his off-season in the minor leagues.
I remember Coach Brown inviting the Stonewalls to particpate in a scrimmage against the Spingarn varsity in 1957. It was MEN against BOYS. Sonny was a great punt and kick-off returner and running running back, but during the scrimmage he played defensive back. He lined up in front of me and he never allowed me to catch a pass from his brother QB Donald Wills. After the scrimmage he would tell us, “You guys are going to be all right” and we were!
Back to Elgin, my plans were to double team Elgin with Donald, but it looked like I had to go at it alone. I borrowed my roommate Arnold McKnight’s (former DC Boxing Commissioner) car to make the trip down highway 85 to Greensboro.
I had no problem finding the Lakers’ motel a friendly cop gave me the directions. I went to the front desk and the lady gave me Elgin’s room number (what a difference a day makes). I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. He opened the door and the first words out his mouth were, “Bell what in the hell are doing way down here?”
I told him Coach Brown had talked me into taking a scholarship to Winston-Salem Sate University. He smiled and said, “The old man is still at it huh!” He invited me in and we talked about the Lakers move to L. A. He was overjoyed about the move, the weather was the determining factor. He ordered room service and we ate and talked until it was time for him to head to the arena. He gave me four tickets, a twenty-dollar bill, a Lakers’ jacket (too big) and I headed back to Winston-Salem. I gave the four tickets to the lady at the front desk and it made her day.
My next encounter with Elgin would be my first NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texas (80s). Former playground legend and all things basketball in Philadelphia, Sonny Hill convinced me to apply for press credentials for the game. It was a great trip but I had a problem getting press credentials and I had a strange encounter with Elgin.
Thanks to Dotie Auerbach (Red’s wife) and NBA PR man, Brian McIntyre we were able to work things out for the credentials. Mr. McIntyre would become a great friend and lifeline for my future endeavors whether it be NBA press credentials for me or the “Roundball Report” a local cable television show in Prince George’s County.
Elgin was another story that I am still trying to figure out today. Mr. McIntyre gave me my credentials and I headed up to my room that I was sharing with Sonny. I got on the elevator and it stopped at the next floor and who gets on but Elgin Baylor and a pretty lady holding on to him. He looked right through me. We rode at least six floors and he never uttered a word. When he and the lady got off, he looked back and said, “Bell it was nice seeing you.”
I could not wait to get to the room and tell Sonny about the encounter. Sonny swears that Elgin could walk on water if he had to and leaves little doubt that Elgin is the NBA G. O. A. T. His response was, “Elgin was just being Elgin, Harold, he did acknowledge you as he was leaving, some folks don’t get that!” All I could do was smile.
My last encounter was in the 80s, I was hosting a retirement tribute to our high school coach, Dave Brown. He was closing out his DC Public Schools coaching and teaching career. I called Elgin to invite him to come home and be a part of the tribute, not knowing what to expect, he took my call. I explained we were doing a tribute to Coach Brown and I would like for him to come home and surprise his coach. He begged off and said their was a conflict in his schedule for that date. The same exact thing he told Dave Bing when he asked Elgin to introduce at his NBA Hall of Fame induction. Elgin did send a telegram thanking Coach Brown for all that he had done for him and wishing him and his family nothing but the best. I never read it!
Sonny Hill once reminded me, “Your hometown will be the last to show you any appreciation and love!” I use to get pissed off at Elgin, Maury and Marvin Gaye because neither ever came back to DC to reach back and pull others with along with them, but they had plent of company.
It is possible they learned early in life that this town was and is overrun with Player Haters and envy and jealous black folks. I have never seen, Marvin, Maury, Elgin, John Thompson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Dave Bing, Len Ford, Willie Wood, all hall of fame athletes photos on Ben Chili Bowl’s Wall of Fame? I remember when they open in 1958, I was senior at Spingarn and hanging out at 7th and T streets around the Howard Theatre and the U street corridor.
I was the Historian at the Chili Bowl for six years-I know the Real history! My childhood friend the late John Snipes became a well known businessman in the U street corridor and the honorary “Mayor of U Street!” I suggested to Kamal who has been the Wind Beneaght the Chili Bowl’s Wings since he was a little kid. He was Mommy’s Baby and Daddy’s maybe. He help keep the bowl afloat during some difficult times. His father Ben decided to go and live in Las Vegas and his older brother Sage left for Hollywood leaving him, baby brother and his mother Virginia to run the business. Kamal carried the load.
The suggestion was to name the room where I was doing the history presentations after John Snipes. The reason, it was Snipes who I first saw escorting white folks around the U street corridor showing them the landmarks of U street after the riots. He had a office over the Chili Bowl. The suggestion went nowhere–Sonny Hill was right.
Elgin died in L. A. at the age of 86 on Monday March 22, 2021. Let me remind those who didn’t know, Elgin was a NCAA Final Four MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, named to the NBA All-Star First Team 10 straight years and he still holds the record for most points scored in a NBA final’s game, 61 points against the Boston Celtics. His NBA career scoring average of 27 points is ranked only behind Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.
Elgin Baylor invented “Hang Time” in the NBA but it was just a carry-over from the playgrounds and the Division ll basketball that was played in the all black DC Public High Schools in the early 50s. During his NBA career he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. He is only one of two players to average those numbers, the other is Wilt Chamberlain. Elgin’s best year as a pro was the 1961-62 season when he averaged 38 points a game.
Elgin and Coach Brown started out at Phelps in 1952. Coach packed his bags and moved next door to Spingarn the new kid on the block in 1953. Elgin dropped out of school because of a young baby. He took the responsibility to help raise the child. Many thought this would be the end of the line for him. Coach Brown kept a light in the window and Elgin returned to Spingarn for that 1953-54 history making season. He was in the first graduating class for the new school and he became the first black to make the Washington Post All-Met basketball team.
The segregated schools where he became “Mr. Basketball” were comprised of Dunbar, Armstrong, Cardozo, Phelps and the last to be built was the home that Elgin Baylor and Lieutenant/Coach Dave Brown built, Spingarn.
“The Hill” was the most unique educational hill in America. There were four schools in walking distance of the second black housing project built in America, Langston Terrace. The four schools starting at the bottom of the Hill (Benning Road), were Spingarn, Charles Young Elementary, Phelps Vocational, and Brown Middle School at the end of the road, the home of Principal William B. Stinson. He predicted to my mother I would not live to get out of high school. If you lived in Langston Terrace you never had to leave the neighborhood to complete your formal education. “The Hill” was the first and last word in education in the hood.
My high school basketball memories would take me from Lincoln, Bannecker, Park View, Henry T Blow, Brown and Kelley Miller playgrounds and all stops in between. Elgin would would later take his show on the road in 1954. He was led to Idaho by Warren Williams aka W. W. Warren was a two sports star at Dunbar (football and basketball). They were joined by homeboys, Armstrong phenom, Gary Mays aka One Arm Bandit, and Francis Saunders his Spingarn teammate. They took the Idaho community and college basketball program by storm, especially when R. C. Owens joined them on campus and became the leading rebounder for the team.
R. C. would later play in the NFL where he became an All-Pro wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers. The Alley Oop pass play became folklore when in 1957 he and QB Y. A. Tittle created the pass play. Y. A. would throw a high pass to R. C. downfield and R. C. would jump over the shorter defensive back and catch the ball (today’s NBA jumpball).
Racism would chase Elgin out of Idaho when the team became too successful for some white folks. The opposing coaches and other whites in the town started to whisper about the grade point averages of the black athletes. This would lead Elgin to transfer to Seattle University where he would lead them to a failed Final Four appearance and to the NBA in 1958 as No. 1 draft choice of the Minneapolis Lakers. The team would leave Minneapolis in 1960 for L. A. and all things Hollywood. The legend of Elgin Baylor took root in 1953 (media) and ended in L. A. on Monday March 22, 2021. All these frauds/folks coming out of the woodwork confessing their love for Elgin Baylor don’t even know how to spell the word. His legend will hang in L. A. forever and a day–in DC he will just be a memory not on a wall.