On March 22, 2021, basketball legend Elgin Baylor passed away at 86. Baylor is most known for 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers where he was an 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA player. He led the Lakers to eight NBA Finals appearances and was inducted into the NBA hall of fame in 1977. But, before Baylor was the number one pick of the 1958 draft or an NBA superstar for the Lakers, he was a freshman basketball player at the College of Idaho playing in the Northwest Conference.
During the 1954-55 season, Baylor led the Coyotes alongside teammate and future star San Francisco 49ers wide receiver R.C. Owens. Baylor averaged 32.8 points per game, while Owens averaged 18 points per game.
While the Coyotes were the best team in the conference, Pacific had one of their best teams in school history with a pair of their own superstar players. Norm Hubert was a second team NAIA All-American in the 1955 season and is the all-time leading scorer in Pacific basketball history with 1703 points. Alongside Hubert, the Boxers (who were the Badgers until 1968) had Dan French who lettered in three different sports and became the head basketball coach as well as athletic director for Pacific after he graduated. French ranks fourth on Pacific’s all-time scoring list with 1279 points and is the current all-time leader in rebounds at Pacific with 688 rebounds.
Feb. 11, 1955, Baylor and the Coyotes came to Forest Grove to face off against Hubert, French and the rest of the Boxers in a two game series. These were the biggest games of the season for Pacific and they were the talk of the town.
Bob Crane, a Forest Grove native and a graduate of Pacific in 1967 remembers the commotion in the city because of the games. “Baylor was attracting a great deal of attention, especially since College of Idaho was undefeated during the regular season,” said Crane. He added, “There was extraordinary interest in those games. Almost impossible to get a ticket.” Crane was only in grade school during the time of the games and said, “the best I could do was a standing room only ticket in the balcony.” Before Pacific’s gym in the Stoller Center, the Boxers played in the gym of Forest Grove Union High School and Crane says he remembered the crowd was in disbelief by the spectacular play from Baylor.
Although both games were competitive, Baylor and the Coyotes swept the series 85-82 and 91-76. The Coyotes ultimately went undefeated in conference play during the 1954-55 season and Baylor transferred to Seattle University the next year due to scholarship disputes. Before becoming the NBA legend we all know, Forest Grove community members saw Baylor’s mythical play firsthand, right in their own backyard. — Joey Balleweg
Photo: Norm Hubert takes a shot while R.C. Owens goes for the block and Elgin Baylor watches (Pacific Archives, Pacific Index, 1955)