• February 22, 2024

The Time Dad Locked Down Elgin Baylor

There my father walked shoulder to shoulder with Baylor.

Mel Streeter was a talent of its own back then. He had played at the University of Oregon in the early 1950s when he was the only black player on his teams. (Imagine seeing the ducks teeming with black talent at the NCAA tournament this weekend.) After moving to Seattle with my mom, he flourished in the fast-paced, open style that featured in the strong AAU – Seattle League Preferred Games were played to crowded audiences and featured prominently on the sports pages.

Baylor was part of that mix. It was made for a strong AAU team: Westside Ford.

Now I wish I had asked my dad more about his only game against Baylor, more about this league and these times. But dad died 15 years ago. As close as we were, part of his story will always be cut off from me. I don’t know which team he was on when he played Baylor. I don’t know if it was a big, high-stakes game – like the battles that helped decide who would go to the AAU national championship.

Fortunately, I remember the look on my dad’s face when he talked about keeping Baylor two points in the first half in a head-to-head match between two tall, lithe and strong strikers. Oh, and Papa didn’t let any of his four sons forget that while he was holding Baylor down, he was lighting the scoreboard. Even before my older brother Jon knew I was writing this column, the moment he heard of Baylor’s death, he sent me a text with his own memories of our family’s well-told story: “Dad turned 11 in the first half Points scored! “

But how did the game end?

Whenever he got to the background of the story, my father would smile and bring me closer and let me know that this short fable wasn’t really about him.

It turned out that Baylor came out in the second half and was determined to teach Mel Streeter a lesson. As dad said, the entire back half of the game was essentially a blur as Baylor whipped past my dad for layups or arcuate orbital jump shots. Baylor didn’t just turn the tables: he made it known that he was simply a different breed of cat. He shut down papa with lockdown defense and set papa on fire for 24 points.

Whenever my father told this story, usually while we were shooting tires at the basket hanging over our old garage, he never stopped making it sound defeated. His smile widened and his face lit up as he looked straight at me and spoke of Baylor in awe. “I couldn’t do anything,” said Papa. “He was just too much.”

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