The 1961-62 NBA season, to this day, is one of the most statistically unbelievable seasons in the history of the league. Multiple players put up historical numbers that are hardly understandable from today’s perspective. It was the year Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game, which to this day is the most points player has averaged in a season. The great Oscar Robertson became the first player in a league’s history to average a triple-double, becoming a standard for today’s all-around players. You would think that one of those historic performers was worthy of the MVP award. However, Bill Russell received that honor, averaging 18.9 points per game along with 23.6 rebounds and leading the Boston Celtics to the best regular-season record.
When people talk about that historic season, one guy’s name doesn’t get enough mentions, and that guy is Elgin Baylor. 1962 was a peak of Baylor’s hall of fame career before the injuries got the better of him and cut his career short. Baylor was a forerunner of today’s modern NBA basketball player.
“The things that we accept as routine today, like changing direction after one has left one’s feet. A spin move, double-pumping, any improvisation off the dribble, hesitation dribbles, all of that comes out of Elgin. And even to some degree, for a person of his size, no-look passes. That’s all from Elgin.”Bijan C. Bayne, The Undefeated
Athletically gifted 6 feet 5 inches and around 225 pounds Small Forward, Baylor had fantastic leaping ability and was very fun to watch. His former teammate Jerry West described Elgin as a „highlight film“. Baylor was very versatile and could play multiple positions on the floor, which is the reason why many of today’s superstars try to emulate him.
In the 1961-62 season, Baylor averaged a career-high in points (38.3) while collecting almost 19 rebounds a game. His scoring numbers would have been the fourth-highest all-time if he qualified for the leaderboard. And the reason why he didn’t qualify for the leaderboard is the reason why Baylor’s season is even more impressive. Elgin joined the Army Reserves in 1961 and was called into active duty in January of 1962, getting stationed in the state of Washington. He spent his weekdays with soldiers and was granted a pass to travel on weekends to play for the Lakers. Baylor played 42 games for the Lakers before getting called up. He appeared in 6 more regular-season games, throughout the period of almost 2 months. Being in the army didn’t stop Elgin from dominating NBA courts, and he even exceeded his season averages over those 6 games, putting up 38.8 points and 22.3 rebounds per game.
In his book „The Book of Basketball, “ NBA analyst Bill Simmons talks about how Elgin Baylor was the player who had the most impressive 1961-62 NBA season, given his circumstances:
“I would argue that Elgin’s 38-19-5 was more implausible than Wilt’s 50 a game or Oscar’s triple-double. The guy didn’t practice! He was moonlighting as an NBA player on weekends! Elgin’s 38-19-5 makes no sense. None. It’s inconceivable.”Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball
And when you put things in perspective, it’s hard to argue against Simmons. Baylor wasn’t able to put his focus solely on basketball, he wasn’t in the playing rhythm, and he still put up those kinds of numbers. He even led the Lakers to the NBA finals that year along with Jerry West and was able to put up a historic 61 points performance in game 5, a record that still stands to this day. The Lakers lost the series, but Baylor sealed the season as overall one of the most impressive individual seasons ever, and he proved that his name should be brought up more often when talking about the historic 1961-62 season.