Week of March 26, 2021

R.I.P. Elgin Baylor

NBA great Elgin Baylor died this week. He was 86. As is the case with athletes before my time, I learned more about him in the past few days than I’d ever known. Bill Simmons referred to him as the “forgotten pioneer” of the NBA. Simmons, who hasn’t written a column in years, read a portion of his Page 2 story about Baylor from back in 2008. This detail was a stunner:

It’s impossible to fully capture Elgin’s greatness five decades after the fact, but let’s try. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds and carried the Lakers to the Finals as a rookie. He scored 71 points against Wilt’s Warriors in his second season. He averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds in his third season — as a 6-foot-5 forward, no less — and topped himself the following year with the most amazing accomplishment in NBA history. During the 1961-62 season, Elgin played only 48 games — all on weekends, all without practicing — and somehow averaged 38 points, 19 rebounds and five assists a game.

Why was this better than Wilt’s 50 per game or Oscar’s season-long triple-double? Because the guy didn’t practice! He was moonlighting as an NBA player on weekends! Wilt’s 50 makes sense considering the feeble competition and his gratuitous ball-hogging. Oscar’s triple-double makes sense considering the style of play at the time — tons of points, tons of missed shots, tons of available rebounds. But Elgin’s 38-19-5 makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t see how this happened. It’s inconceivable. A U.S. Army Reservist at the time, Elgin lived in a barracks in the state of Washington, leaving only whenever they gave him a weekend pass … and even with that pass, he could only fly coach on flights with multiple connections to meet the Lakers wherever they happened to be playing. Once he arrived, he would throw on a uniform and battle the best NBA players alive on back-to-back nights — fortunately for the Lakers, most games were scheduled on the weekends back then — and make the same complicated trip back to Washington on Sunday night or Monday morning. That was his life for five months.

The idea of that situation in modern times is so bananas. 

On a more personal tip, Kurt Streeter paid tribute to Baylor by re-telling a family story in which Baylor played a large part. His family knew it well, texted him about it as soon as they heard the news that Baylor had passed. It’s a perfect story, in that it captures the folklore nature of sports. Our brushes with greatness. TOB seeing Willie Mays. My Joe Mauer tales. 

Baylor floating
Mel Streeter

Streeter’s dad, himself passed away 15 years ago, knew how to tell the story, which makes sense, because it sounds like he told his kids the tale enough times to workshop it. 

Per Streeter: 

“Did I ever tell you about the time I played Elgin Baylor?” my father would say as he looked into my eyes, filled with wonder no matter how many times he’d begun this way.

“Elgin couldn’t score on me, no he couldn’t. Not in that first half he couldn’t.”

How perfect is that opener? It tells you everything you need to know about the second half. The story goes much deeper than Streeter’s dad facing off with an all-time great who, along with Bill Russell, changed the way basketball was played. 

I wish now that I had asked my father more about his one-and-only game against Baylor, more about that league and those times. But dad died 15 years ago. As close as we were, some of his history will always be cut off from me. I don’t know what team he was on when he played against Baylor. I don’t know if it was a big game with high stakes — like the battles that helped decide who would head off to the A.A.U. national championship.

Thankfully, I have a firm recollection of the look on my father’s face as he spoke of how, in a head-to-head matchup between two tall, lithe and powerful forwards, he held Baylor to two first-half points. Oh, and dad never let any of his four sons forget that while he was holding down Baylor, he was lighting up the scoreboard. Even before my older brother Jon knew I was writing this column, the moment he heard about Baylor’s death he sent me a text with his own recollections of our family’s well-told tale: “Dad scored 11 in the first half!”

Two great reads about a “forgotten pioneer”. Both are worth reading in full. – PAL 

Sources: Elgin took the game to new heights”, Bill Simmons, Page 2 (10/08/08); “The Time Dad Locked Down Elgin Baylor”, Kurt Streeter, The NY Times (03/23/21)

I’m Guessing That High School Baseball Won A Lot

I was looking up opening day details, and I just stumbled upon this factoid, ℅ Thomas Harigan over at MLB.com: three pitchers from the same high school will make opening day starts for their MLB clubs. It’s those young guys pictured in the tweet at the top of the post, each first round draft picks.

Jack Flaherty (Cardinals), Lucas Giolito (White Sox), and Max Fried (Braves) all went to Harvard-Westlake in the L.A. area. What’s more, they were teammates! It’s not like one of them is 34, another 29, and another 24; they were on the same team. That’s crazy, right? That’s crazy. – PAL 

Source: 1 high school has 3 Opening Day starters?!”, Thomas Harrigan, MLB.com (03/25/21)

How 3D Printing Is Making Sports Safer

I started reading this, and thought, “Oh yeah; why haven’t they been doing this for years?” An engineering lab at Auburn has been 3D printing guards for football players based on body scans. And while joints aren’t yet on the table, the relatively early results have been very positive. 

Per Andy Staples:

Why do the custom guards protect better? Physics. A guard that isn’t designed to fit a player’s body won’t allow the force of a blow to dissipate evenly. So certain points on the body must absorb more force. A guard made to fit the contours of the athlete’s body reduces that issue. “There are no what you’d call stress concentrations,” Zabala said. “It dissipates the stress out over the entire surface. It’s 100 percent contact area. If you can distribute the load over the entirety of the surface, then it’s safer for anybody.”

And the idea that a guy could bruise a ribs in the first half of a game and be wearing a custom guard by the second half is pretty incredible. It doesn’t take long to see the applications to other sports as well.

The story then becomes less about the idea and more about making a business out of it. 3D printers are common, so what makes XO Armor positioned to take this concept and turn it into a large company? What’s stopping another competitor from joining the game

The current plan is a subscription model with athletic departments and franchises, but they wonder if there’s a future where the company partners with sports orthopedics across the country. I mean, in three years will TOB be backing dudes down in the pickup game some XO Armor? 

I enjoyed the read, but it sure read like a glowing company review from a very popular college football writer. I wouldn’t mention this, but TOB sent another story from The Athletic, one written by the great Marcus Thompson, about the rapper Macklemore finding the healing power of golf…and by the way he started a golf clothing line. Curious to hear from folks as to whether or not this Staples story read a little like an advertorial for XO Armor.- PAL 

Source: Auburn ingenuity: Custom guards to protect injuries making impact on college football and beyond”, Andy Staples, The Athletic (03/24/21)

Video of the Week: “Two Cheeker” – Kruk is the best.

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak – “Make It Better (Feat. Smokey Robinson)”

What’s my problem, punks like you, that’s my problem. And you better not screw up again Seinfeld, because if you do, I’ll be all over you like a Pit Bull on a Poodle.

-Lt. Bookman