ELGIN BAYLOR STATUE AT STAPLES WAS REDLANDS REMINDER

When the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled the statue of NBA legend Elgin Baylor at Staples Center on April 6, there must’ve been nostalgic reminders about the moments when he was twisting his way to the basket against the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

In those Southern California days, Baylor was as highly regarded as Dodger legend Sandy Koufax, the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, UCLA’s John Wooden and his center, Lew Alcindor, not to mention Baylor’s teammate, Jerry West.

Baylor, in fact, came to Redlands.

Elgin Baylor drives vs Celtics Bill Russell cropped
Elgin Baylor, 22, goes up against Boston great Bill Russell in a 1960s duel between the Lakers and Celtics. On April 6, 2018, the Lakers honored Baylor with a statue outside Staples Center (Photo by nba.com).

It was back in the early 1970s when Baylor, along with UC Riverside coach John Masi, Gail Goodrich, his father, Gail, Sr., plus Redlands coaches ran a weeklong clinic at Currier Gymnasium in that early 1970s setting.

“After the last night of camp,” said Sal Valdivia, a lifetime Beaumont resident, “I invited them to my parents’ house for dinner – and they came.”

Baylor, Goodrich, Sr. and Masi, along with Redlands coaches, showed up at the Valdivias’ home, corner of 10th and Palm in nearby Beaumont.

Gail, Jr. had been invited, too, “but he had something else going on,” said Valdivia, who had been a Beaumont player, later its coach before spending 25 seasons as the assistant to Mt. San Jacinto College legend John Chambers.

Goodrich, Sr., in fact, was an All-American at USC in 1939.

Baylor and Goodrich, Jr., of course, were the headliners at the Redlands camp. Both are NBA Hall of Famers. Valdivia said he took part in the camp’s scrimmage.

“It was the highlight of my life,” said Valdivia, who spent 32 years teaching juveniles in Beaumont.

On that night at 10th and Palm, Valdivia’s mother, Palmita, made tacos, enchiladas, rice and beans.

“And beer,” said Sal, laughing.

That 5-day Redlands camp had been incredible, said Valdivia.

On the final day inside historic Currier Gym, the younger Goodrich gathered about 100 campers around the basket. He told them, “Here’s what shooting 500 times a day will do for you.”

Valdivia said the Lakers’ sharpshooter told them he’d take 50 shots from different spots on the court – corners, wings and top of the key – “and he guaranteed he’d make 90 percent.”

His recollection: After nailing a shot from the corner, Goodrich missed from the wing, then proceeded to drain 46 straight.

Goodrich
Laker legend, Gail Goodrich, hit 48 out of 50 long-range shots at a youth basketball clinic at the University of Redlands in the early 1970s (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Said Valdivia: “He made 48 out of 50. The kids were going nuts. They were jazzed. He hit nothing but net.”

Baylor, who retired just prior to the Lakers’ NBA championship season in 1972, served as an executive for the Los Angeles Clippers for 22 years. During his 14-year playing career, having been selected as the NBA’s first overall pick in 1958, he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds.

During his on-court days, Baylor was associated with a Laker franchise that reached the NBA finals on eight occasions – only to lose against the Boston Celtics seven times. The other time came in 1970s when the New York Knicks beat L.A.

Baylor became the sixth Laker honored with a statue. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Alcindor), West, Shaquille O’Neal and announcer Chick Hearn, all having preceded Baylor.

All of which reminded Valdivia of that 1970s time at Redlands, plus the night at his parents’ home when his presence created a festive occasion.

“I told my mom I was going to invite them,” said Valdivia, “but that I didn’t think they’d come. I was surprised when they did.”

 

 

 

 

GEORGE YARDLEY WAS NBA’S FIRST 2,000-POINT KING

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Curiously, there was a direct link from the NBA to the University of Redlands basketball program.

He came in the form of a role player in the late 1979s, early 1980s. His name was Rob Yardley, an outgoing, intelligent and seemingly Christian-living soul. Basketball historians, incidentally, might recognize the name of Yardley.

It was George Yardley who was the first player in history to score 2,000 points in a season. Newport Harbor High School. Stanford. Seventh pick, NBA draft, 1950.

George_Yardley, 1959
George Yardley, wearing the NBA uniform of the old Syracuse Nats, was the league’s top scoring threat until Wilt Chamberlain came into the league. Yardley was the first NBA player to surpass the 2,000-point milestone. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In 1958, Yardley, then of the Detroit Pistons, scored 2,001 points. At 6-5, Yardley was a good-sized forward in 1950’s basketball, and was “an offensive-minded player with a knack for scoring,” he said in his basketball Hall of Fame biography.

Described as a “flamboyant” and “gregarious” player who “never did anything without flair,” Yardley had a stellar seven-year career, making the NBA All-Star team every year except for his rookie season.

He led the Fort Wayne Pistons to two NBA Finals before the team moved to Detroit in 1957.

In 1957-58, the Pistons’ first year in Detroit, Yardley led the league in scoring, averaging 27.8 points, thus surpassing George Mikan’s previous record of 1,932 points in 1958.

That year, Yardley also set NBA records for most free throws attempted (808), most free throws made (655), and was named All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career.

Following a sixth all-star season in 1959-60, averaging 20.2 points, George Yardley retired from basketball at the age of 31. He was the first player in NBA history to retire after averaging at least 20 points in his final year.

Although Alex Groza had a 21.7 scoring average in his final NBA season in 1951, his career ended as a result of a lifelong ban for point shaving, instead of a voluntary retirement like that of Yardley’s.

A year later, 1959, St. Louis Hawks’ center Bob Pettitt broke Yardley’s mark. By 1962, Chamberlain’s single-season total in 1962 eclipsed that of Yardley and Pettitt combined. Chamberlain wiped every scoring record off the books, averaging a shade over 50 points a game.

Who was this Yardley guy again?

George Yardley, incidentally, was Rob’s dad.

Rob Yardley (Photo credit, LinkedIn)
Rob Yardley, looking a little older and grayer than in his University of Redlands days in the early 1980s, was the son of an NBA great (Photo credit: LinkedIn.)

“No,” said the younger Yardley, who stood 6-foot-6, “he never did (pressure me) to play basketball. I thought I was going to be a tennis star, and he introduced me to tennis. I think he likes tennis more than basketball, anyway.”

One night, Yardley came off the bench to score eight points – hardly in Chamberlain’s class, or that of Pettitt, or even his dad – in a 63-52 win at Occidental College, a campus located just outside Pasadena.

But he did hit all four of his shots, eventually fouling out. He said, “I was a butcher out there. I kept leaning. Coach (Gary) Smith has told me a thousand times to keep my hands off the guy on the baseline.”

George was in Eagle Rock, Occidental’s home city, to watch his son play that night. In fact, the former NBA star was often seen at Currier Gym.

Think about it: George Yardley played against the likes of Chamberlain, Pettitt, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Elgin Baylor. There were wire service photos of George Yardley going up against Russell and Cousy. At 31, he retired. He played a little in 1961-62 with the Los Angeles Jets, a much-forgotten team from the old American Basketball League.

By contrast, Rob Yardley was neither an NBA player or even an All-Conference player at Redlands. Like his dad, it was Newport Harbor High. Then it was off to Orange County Junior College, then a two-year stint at Redlands.

For locals, it was an interesting Redlands Connection.