The acrobatic shooting sensation of his time.
While other players since his playing days have garnered accolade for their aerial artistry, Baylor was perhaps the NBA's first player to showcase those skills.
He had an uncanny ability to hang in mid-air indefinitely, inventing shots and improvising deception along his flight path. Years before Julius Erving and Michael Jordan became international heroes with their similarly acrobatic games, Baylor created the blueprint for the modern superstar.
As a rookie, Baylor averaged 24.9 ppg, 15.0 rpg and 4.1 apg en route to Rookie of the Year honors. The Lakers, then located in Minneapolis, went from missing the playoffs in 1957-58 to making The Finals in 1958-59 (where they lost 4-0 to the Boston Celtics). That season, Baylor also scored 55 points in a game and was the All-Star Game MVP.
Overall, scoring was never an issue for Baylor as he averaged 34.8, 38.3 and 34.0 ppg, respectively, from 1960-61 through 1962-63. From 1958-59 to 1969-70, Baylor had only one season scoring less than 20 ppg (16.6 ppg in 1965-66) and averaged 24.5 ppg or more in 11 of those 12 seasons.
The Lakers moved to L.A. in 1960 and Baylor keyed their heyday there in that decade. The Lakers also drafted future Hall of Famer Jerry West in 1960, and he and Baylor clicked immediately, averaging 69.1 combined points per game and becoming lifelong friends.
Baylor spent half of the 1961-62 season he played on weekend passes while on active duty as an Army reservist. He still managed to post 38.3 ppg, which would have ranked second in the NBA had he appeared in enough games.
Baylor scored 64 points on Nov. 8, 1959 -- then the league single-game record, and the Lakers’ record for 45 years until Kobe Bryant broke it. He then became the first NBA player to surpass 70 points, scoring 71 on Dec. 11, 1960, against New York.
The Finals proved to be a difficult playoff stage for Baylor and the Lakers. While he made eight Finals trips, he lost every time -- falling seven times to the rival Celtics and once to the New York Knicks. Los Angeles won the 1971-72 title, but only after Baylor retired nine games into the season, dissatisfied with his standard of play due to his ailing knees.
One of Baylor's Finals records has stood the test of time: his 61-point showing in Game 5 of the 1962 Finals. He shot 22-for-46 and 17-for-19 on free throws as the Lakers rallied in the fourth quarter for the win. The series would go to a Game 7, which the Lakers would lose 110-107 to the Celtics in an overtime heartbreaker.
In 1977, he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1980, he was named to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team, and in 1996, he was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. After his playing days, Baylor was hired as an assistant coach for the expansion New Orleans Jazz and eventually coached the team, compiling an 85-135 record from 1976-79.
The LA Clippers hired Baylor as their vice president of basketball operations in 1986, a role he held until resigning from it in 2008. He was named NBA Executive of the Year in 2006 after the Clippers won their first playoff series in 30 years.
Baylor's likeness permanently graces the outside of the Staples Center, as a statue of him was unveiled in April of 2018. At the time, his statue was the sixth outside the arena, joining Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Chick Hearn.