The Night Baylor Scored 71 Points

[In his 2018 autobiography Hang Time, Elgin Baylor opened up to writer Alan Eisenstock about the historic night of November 15, 1960. Lakers versus Knicks. Madison Square Garden. The nightcap of an NBA doubleheader. Baylor remembered almost 60 years later the starting fives gathering that night at center court for the opening tip. He shook hands with the Knicks’ Willie Naulls, a Los Angeles native with whom he was on friendly terms. 

“Take it easy on us, will you, Elgin?”

“I don’t know, Willie,” Baylor answered. “I feel something different tonight.”

Baylor, who had arrived in New York weathering a bit of a shooting slump, had spent 40 minutes that afternoon in the gym working on his shot. After the usual pregame nap and meal, Baylor got changed into his uniform and went out for the pregame warmup. He was hitting nothing but net. 

This article, from the February 1962 issue of Complete Sports, recounts what came next on this night when Baylor felt “something different.” Surprisingly, the newspaper accounts of Baylor’s then-record night are a little thin. This magazine article, probably penned by the NBA’s longtime publicity director Haskell Cohen, is one of the most-detailed accounts out there. Baylor’s prediction at the end is incredibly prescient. 

In Hang Time, Baylor topped off the memory of his big night by telling writer Eisenstock, “After the game, I leave the locker room with Hot Rod [Hundley]. Feeling a little giddy, I agree to have a nightcap with him in the hotel bar. He hails a cab and the two of us scramble into the back seat.

“‘You know who this is?’ Hot Rod shouts to the cabdriver. ‘Elgin Baylor, the greatest basketball player in the world. We just beat the Knicks. You got 78 points in this cab, baby. Seventy-eight points.’

“’That’s right,’ I say. ‘Hot Rod here had seven.’”]

There was absolutely nothing unusual or different about the crowd that journeyed into Madison Square Garden on the night of November 15, 1960—except that its number, 10,132, was a bit smaller than usual for the pro basketball twin bill that was on tap. The Detroit Pistons were to play the Boston Celtics, while the New York Knickerbockers had the Los Angeles Lakers as their opponents.

The first game was a dynamic overtime thriller in which the Pistons came from behind to tie the score on a goal by Gene Shue while the final buzzer was blasting away—and then went on to win it, 115-114, on another goal by Shue in the extra session. 

But, at approximately 11:30 PM that night, the same crowd—to the last man—was on its feet screaming itself hoarse in a mass tribute to Laker forward, Elgin Baylor, who picked this night to write his name in history!

Baylor, in this game, dropped in a world record of 71 points to become the first man to hit such an astronomical figure—and came off the court to say: “There ain’t no limit to how much a guy can score in this game!”

Trying to pick out just where Baylor started on this history-making spree is different. Certainly, in the beginning of the game—in fact almost all the way through it—there was no indication, by his teammates, that Elgin was to be given any special consideration. 

Certainly, there was no thought of a world record in the first three quarters of the game. For the first half, the Knicks played on very even terms with the Lakers all the way. The New Yorkers’ Willie Naulls, whose 35 points was in the nature of a similar miracle for the Knicks—and lost in the shuffle—kept New York very much in the game, and N.Y. led at the end of the first quarter, 35 o 33. 

Baylor was going along at an even pace in this opening, dropping in an occasional long shot, which, when he is clicking on them, is a hint of things to come. He collected 15 points in the first period. 

Then the pattern began to emerge. Baylor was dropping them in from everywhere. No matter what the Knicks did, they could not hold him. They tried two men on him. They tried three men. If they let him get set, outside, it was murder. He dropped in outside shots and inside shots. He was hitting with one-handed set shots and jumpers and driving, one-handed shots and shots out of the pivot. He pulled the Knicks defenders out of position almost with every move.   

Baylor’s magnificent body control, which has won him praise from players and coaches alike, made the New York defenders look sick indeed. Time and again, by changing his direction and with numerous out of position feinting tactics, he would lure a defender off guard, whirl around him and drop in a goal with consummate ease. 

This one-man riot really got rolling through the third and fourth quarters. Thanks to the 19 points he dropped in during the second period, the Lakers had moved into a comfortable 65-58 lead at the intermission. 

It was this point that the crowd got its first hint it might be in on a history-making ball game. The announcer blared that Baylor’s 15 goals and 34 points for the first half—were a new Garden record—and the citizens started to shout. Cries of “Give it to Baylor” began to filter through the arena as the second half got under way, but there was no real attention paid to it until the final three or four minutes of play.

The game, however, continued to be hard and close. Naulls was hitting frequently and neutralizing a lot of Baylor’s one-man efforts, and the Knicks kept right in the thick of things. Baylor, utilizing many types of lay-ups, connected for 13 points in the third quarter and, at this point, his scorecard read 47 points. 

Elgin was a terror on the rebounds as well. He snagged 25 during the contest and also was treading on thin ice in the personal foul department. He had four called on him going into the last quarter and was concentrating more on remaining in the game than he was on setting any records. 

“I didn’t know anything about the records till the announcer blasted that I had scored 63 points, when I dropped in a goal with only three minutes and five seconds left to play.” The crowd stood up, almost as one person, and remained standing the rest of the way. “I could hear them yelling ‘Give it to Elgin. Give it to Baylor,’” he continued, “and for one of the few times in my life, I got nervous and scared out on the basketball court.

“I knew then everyone was watching me, and I started to panic. I didn’t want that ball—I was afraid I would throw it away.”

Now the crowd knew they were on the borders of a history-making event. There wasn’t a soul in the Garden—and we think we can even say that for the Knick players, too—who didn’t want to see this magnificent 6-5 athlete write his name in the book of gold. 

Baylor was not kidding when he said he was tense. He missed a one-hander from the corner. Then he was short with a one-hander from the foul line. The clock ticked on, and it seemed a fickle fate was going to taunt the young giant, after leading him right to the doorstep of the Hall of Fame. 

Rudy LaRusso, Jerry West, Tommy Hawkins, and Rod Hundley were like a feeding machine as they automatically rifled the ball to their big teammate. They all knew what that one extra goal meant to the big guy—and they were determined Elgin was going to get it. 

There was one other millstone around Baylor’s neck, at this point, as well. He had been penalized for his fifth personal foul, early in this period—and one more misplay would put him out of the game—and out of the reach of history. 

Because of his five fouls, Baylor had to be very careful about his defensive tactics in the last period. Any real rough stuff would have had him out of there, and the Knicks’ Jim Palmer treated himself to four quick goals out of six tries—thanks to Elgin’s extra-cautious type of play. 

It looked like Baylor had cashed in his chips when big Ken Sears leaped up to block another of his shots, and Baylor missed with another one-hander. 

Then the miracle happened! With only 78 seconds left to play, Baylor dove in the middle of a swarm of players and drove on toward the board. His shot was forced, but he grabbed the rebound and whipped it home!

Baylor had run up 65 points—a new record, breaking his own mark of 64—set only last year in a game against the Boston Celtics! Now the roaring fans were rocking the Garden. The game was forgotten . They demanded that Baylor be given the ball at every opportunity and from then till coach Fred Schaus pulled him out of the game with only 30 seconds left, the husky giant might well have been the only man on the Garden court. 

Elgin got two more foul shots and made good. Then he drew two more—and one extra—because the Knicks had exceeded their violations for the period. He sank two of the final three and dropped in one final goal—on a patented one-hander with less than 40 seconds left to play. 

Schaus signaled for his big boy to leave the floor. And, as Schaus and his big joyful teammates waited to embrace him, fans and players alike rose and let loose a full one-minute standing ovation for the greatest individual basketball performance in history!

Along the way, Elgin had added 24 points to his total in that final historic quarter. His 28 field goals also wiped out the mark of 27 set by Joe Fulks of Philadelphia against Indianapolis in 1949. 

Ruby Baylor greets her husband at the airport after his historic night.

The talking started as soon as the Lakers reached their dressing room and was still going on far into the night, wherever basketball buffs heard the big news. Baylor said simply:

“I was pressing too hard in those final minutes. I know, I was plenty arm-weary, too. I told the other guys not to give me the ball, but I might as well have been talking to myself. I always wound up with it. They just wanted me to have it and see me break that record.”

Schaus was pointed about one thing. “It must not be overlooked,” said the beaming coach, “that at no time was Elgin in a position to coast. We were behind at the quarter and really didn’t have the game under much control until the last five or six minutes of play. The club did not begin to feed Baylor for the purpose of running up the score until the last two minutes of the game.”

It would be impossible to list all the general comments made by men, big and small in the court picture, as to what makes Baylor great. He is not the super-giant in size of Chamberlain, being a mere 6-5. He is not regarded as the greatest set shot or the greatest playmaker in the game. 

He is only the best basketball player in the world. He is like a world champion track man—an Olympic decathlon king or an All-America halfback in football. He just does everything as near perfect as it can be done. He has been likened—and quite justifiably, we’d say—to Willie Mays’ preeminence in baseball. He most certainly is “the Willie Mays of basketball!” 

Jocko Collins, famed basketball referee and scout, who has seen the greats in basketball for most of half a century says: “Elgin has the greatest body control I have ever seen.” Schaus chimed in with complete accord. “I had heard about how good he was long before I ever saw him, and I thought I’d seen the best,” said Fred. “Maybe I had—till Baylor came along. He is the greatest!” Schaus says what is generally overlooked in Baylor is what the coach refers to as “his second effort.” “He must have gotten six or eight goals tonight, following his own shots,” he explained. 

Fuzzy Levane, former star and coach of the Knickerbockers, marveled at Baylor’s tremendous personal drive and stamina. “Imagine a man going like he did for the full 45 minutes he played,” said Levane. “There isn’t a player in the league who can stay with him over that stretch of time.”

Ned Irish, basketball impresario of the Garden is not given to rash and long-winded statements or undue praise of any kind. “Yes, it was the greatest individual performance I have ever seen,” said Ned. 

“He didn’t, however, surprise me a great deal. The first time I ever saw him in a scrimmage, before a tournament game, when he came here with Seattle, I left the arena and told a couple of the lads: ‘I have just seen the greatest player I have ever watched!”

Carl Braun, coach of the Knicks, just threw up his hands when asked if he could think of anything that had not already been tried to keep this boy under control. “It’s his moves around the basket that kill you most on the offense,” said Carl. “That’s where his great body control comes into play. But, if you drop off him, he just murders you from the outside—so where does that leave you?”

Baylor’s game statistics show just what kind of a ballplayer he really is. He made 28 field goals out of 48 tries for a .583 shooting average. The rest of the Lakers made only 22 goals and the team as a unit—without Baylor—had only 15 assists!

Elgin made 15 of his teams 23 foul tries and had 25 rebounds—more than two of the Knicks—or even two of his teammates! Aside from all this, Elgin had a comparatively quiet evening. 

The big guy took all the plaudits in stride. He said, after the game, that he was, of course, very happy but admitted that: “Last year, when I scored the 64 points against the Celtics, I think it was a bigger belt for me. That was the game where we beat the Celtics, after losing 22 games in a row to them.”

Elgin doesn’t have much of an explanation for his one-man war that night. “I always try to angle for a man-to-man situation where I can get a chance to drive around whoever is guarding me,” he said. “I always like the inside play, for it gives me a chance at the rebounds. Those are the ones I get the biggest kick out of scoring.”

Someone was kidding Laker Frank Selvy, after Elgin’s great performance: “ He’s going after your record of 100 next,” they told Frank. As a collegian, Selvy scored 100 points in a game against little Newbury College. 

“Don’t kid around that he won’t make it, either,” laughed Selvy.

Baylor was asked when and if he thought his new record would be broken. “Of course it will be broken. My own of 64 didn’t last a year,” he replied. “Certainly if I can go this high—there is no reason to think someone else can’t come along to better it. My outside shot hadn’t been too good, and I practiced 40 minutes on it this afternoon. Maybe that had something to do with it!”

Everywhere he goes, Baylor is asked the same questions: How did he do it? Does he think the record will be broken? And will anyone score 100 points in a pro game?

“I think any good forward who takes 50 shots in a game is liable to score more than 71 points,” he said. “I think Wilt Chamberlain is the only one liable to get that 100! He is physically capable of scoring anything he wants . . .!”

One thought on “The Night Baylor Scored 71 Points

  1. What year did Elgin change jerseys #20 to #22??? I noticed it on the 1960 picture posted. I luv #22 jerseys on most NBA teams.


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