In the 1961–62 season NBA season, Elgin Baylor played just 48 games. It was not due to injuries or load management. The man served in the army and played for the Los Angeles Lakers during weekends. One would assume that Baylor’s 6-foot-5 frame would intimidate his fellow soldiers. But as it turned out, in his first week at camp, Baylor’s height got him in trouble.
At 6-foot-5, Baylor was just one inch shorter than the maximum height limit of the military. In his day job as a basketball player, height gives one a supreme advantage. But in the army, Baylor discovered that being tall was a bane rather than a boon.
During his first week of basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Baylor and his fellow reservists stood tall and lined up as their drill sergeant’s beady eyes observed them one by one. He noticed the sergeant’s eyes stop on him. It wasn’t because he recognized the Lakers star. It was because Baylor was wearing street clothes and not the proper uniform. Baylor recalled their exchange per NBA.com:
“You missed receiving your requisition? Where were you? Were you too late?” the sergeant said.
The sergeant discovered that Baylor put together two cots to accommodate his 6-foot-5 frame. One standard cot could only accommodate someone who stood 6-foot-2 or smaller.
Unfortunately, the army failed to give Baylor a uniform that could fit him. It’s unknown whether they also gave him the right-sized cot. During his six-week reserve training at Fort Sam Houston, Baylor probably used two cots every night.
In that season where he divided his time donning army street clothes and the Lakers jersey, Baylor averaged a career-high 38.3 points per game. He also snagged 18.6 rebounds per game which is ridiculous for a forward, no matter what era you’re from. His coach Fred Schaus didn’t seem to give a damn that Baylor was an army man on most days of the week, as he fielded him 44.4 minutes per game.
That’s not the most amazing thing that occurred in Baylor’s season. He also guided the Lakers to the NBA Finals against their rivals, the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, they lost in seven games.
Baylor is regarded as one of the greatest players ever. No one jabs him for never winning an NBA Championship. Perhaps they know of the chapter in Baylor’s life where he was known as Mr. Inside, who dropped 40 points on weekends, and Private Baylor, who was training on weekends to serve his country.