Elg is...well, I guess the best way to put it is that Elg is the kind of guy that when he's not around, you know he's not around.
Elgin Baylor is back, his knees restyled and his magnetic quality reconstituted, so that he is again the player of basketball legend, of his own elegant moves, all smoothness, all power. He is one of a kind; were Elgin Baylor an animal, he would be a satin tiger.
On and off the court, he glides with a regal mien, carrying himself with such �lan that it often has been said of him that he must surely descend from the giant black royalty of some Nubian empire. He dresses, always richly and impeccably, in the soft, tame shades, for he is one of those few who are able to accept simple quality as sufficiently ostentatious by itself. He is aware of his own great talent and thus is immune to flattery. For he is, above all, a proud man, and one who is determined to secure the dignity of Elgin Baylor as he respects that of others.
Here he is in a game. No matter how the action swirls, his demeanor does not change. There is no apparent emotion and never a word. And afterward he sits, silent among the strangers in the locker room, unmoved by the commotion and the acclaim pressing in on him. Then a shower, and next—with tailor's hands—buttoning a fresh shirt, sliding into custom-made pants and coat. A measured spicing with a brisk new aroma, a fastidious brush at one errant strand of hair, and the leavetaking, again with the regal air. Finally, to the Jaguar and the drive with his wife Ruby to their new home high in the Beverly Hills—Los Angeles spread out below the smog, and Catalina Island 23 miles beyond the telescope in the upstairs front window.
That is the public Elgin Baylor. Now meet Elg—as in those often-heard expressions, "Not again, Elg!" "I give up, Elg!" and "Shut up, Elg!" With his Laker teammates Baylor is a cackling mother hen, an impossible bore, a show-off, a know-it-all, a needler, a wise guy, a con man, a put-on, a gamesman, a big-mouth, an unstoppable mouth and a general all-round self-proclaimed authority on everything that walks, crawls, flies or just exists.
And he is positively charming. The Lakers love him. It is unlikely that any athlete has ever been held in such personal and professional awe as Baylor is by his teammates.
There are a few outsiders who also are aware of the Baylor phenomenon. Bill Russell is one. Last fall, at the San Diego airport before an exhibition against the Celtics, the Lakers were discussing their new team blazers. Among those who cared, the vote was seven for light blue, Elg for dark blue. This is a pretty even matchup for a Laker argument. "Mighty democratic of you, Mr. Baylor," Russell said, "to let these gentlemen discuss the situation with you." The Lakers were all fitted for their dark-blue blazers the next week.
But Elg does not require issues that arise naturally. He is best at manufacturing his own. At any time, out of the blue, he may inquire: "In a race, could a bear beat a leopard?" or "How many seats in a Boeing 707?" These are not rhetorical questions. He wants an argument, but he has his own answers ready, and they are guaranteed to be outrageous and arbitrary.
Here he is, in the privacy of the Lakers, coming through the locker room and talking as usual. He has a new nickname for someone, criticism for the alleged tackiness of someone else's wardrobe ("That's a nice checked coat: I didn't know Purina was making clothes"), at least one outrageous new theory, suggestions on the relative abilities of various animals, an updated critique on airplane safety and assorted comments—all opinionated—on those discussions already in progress ("That broad? Why, she's older than baseball," has ended many movie conversations).
Momentarily, he will switch from his usual, well-mannered speech into an obvious "he do" Negro dialect. It is as if sometimes he even puts himself on. At practice, which he still loves, he cavorts throughout. "Hey, I got a turkey!" he laughs as soon as he gets a little man guarding him. One move, rock, back, fake, rock, up, zoom for the basket. And badger, roar, scream, fat-mouth, annoy until back in the locker room. He will still be talking when he leaves. "One time," says Walt Hazzard, his friend and teammate, "he ran his mouth without stopping, five and a half hours, nonstop, mouth and plane, Boston to L.A."