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.
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.
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.”