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Satch Sanders recalls Elgin Baylor, the greatest all-around player he ever saw

Satch Sanders (left) defends against Elgin Baylor in a 1970 game at Boston Garden.Danny Goshtigian/Globe Staff/Fil

Celtics great Tom “Satch” Sanders reached out to Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy to share these recollections about Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, who died this past Monday.

I fell in love with Elgin Baylor’s talent in 1957. His college performance with Seattle University’s basketball team was spectacular. It was Seattle versus the University of Connecticut in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The arena was packed with people. There were fans, gamblers, and a hell of a lot of smokers, judging from the blue-gray smoke cloud that obscured the Garden’s ceiling.

I was a sophomore at New York University and the entire NYU basketball team was watching and wishing our style and talent could bring in that kind of standing-room-only crowd.


The sports sections of the newspapers, Post, Times, Daily News, and the Herald Tribune, had all raved about the coming of the “Baylor Genius.” Whatever the notices said, they did not come close to describing how this Elgin Baylor could do everything.

When UConn fell behind and started pressing Seattle, Elgin brought the ball up court in an effortless, smooth fashion, even when attacked by two and three players. He then passed the ball to his backcourt teammates and moved to a position to get the ball back. He would then present us with a magic scoring moment.

The most impressive thing that occurred in that game was Elgin getting a rebound from two very physical UConn frontcourt players. He slashed his right arm on the rim, near his armpit. When they took him off the court, we were amazed at the location of the gash. At first we thought he’d cut his armpit. However, they stitched him up and he returned to the court with a bandage located two or three inches below his armpit.

After that performance, I was an Elgin Baylor fan for life. Little did I realize that I would become a professional basketball player and have to work for 10 seasons against the greatest all-around player who has ever lived.


Outside of his game talents, he was a prankster. He had some fun tricks that he would share during our off-game meetings during the exhibition season.

When this great player didn’t pass the ball to an open teammate on time, he would apologize to the player. He was the complete competitor and an outstanding team leader.

For my entire career, the high points were involved with watching and playing against the wonderful Elgin Baylor. My dream of being able to perform at Elgin’s level was like a bubble that kept getting off the ground and bursting immediately.

Elgin, thank you for letting me see you up close and personal.