Elgin Baylor on growing up in Washington

(Harold Matosian / AP) (Harold Matosian / AP)

Last year, the Library of Congress announced the acquisition of thousands of sports interviews recorded over 15 years for Ron Barr’s syndicated program, Sports Byline USA. The interviews — whose subjects include Bob Feller, George Steinbrenner, Bill Walsh, Kirby Puckett, Joe Frazier, Evel Knievel, Dale Earnhardt, John Wooden, Reggie White, Mickey Mantle, Elgin Baylor, Hank Aaron, Oscar Robertson, John Elway, Jose Canseco, Charles Barkley, Jimmie Johnson, John Mackey, Archie Griffin, Bonnie Blair, Bill Bradley, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, John McEnroe and Meadowlark Lemon — eventually will be available to stream for free on the Library’s Web site.

This Friday, the Library will present a roundtable discussion of sports, broadcasting and preservation, featuring Barr, Brian Billick, Adonal Foyle and Library staffers. The program is free and open to the public, beginning at noon in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Madison Building on the Hill. The program will include audio and broadcast clips from the Library’s collection dating from the early ’30s.

To promote the event, the Library posted an interview Barr conducted with Elgin Baylor in 1997, and because the NBA legend spent some time in the clip discussing his childhood in Washington, I figured I should do my thing.

“Well, I grew up in Washington D.C.,” Baylor said, when asked how he first got interested in basketball. “And at the time I was growing up, Washington D.C. was a segregated city. You didn’t have any parks or public playgrounds for the blacks to play. Most of the time we just played stickball in the streets. And when I was about 14, there was a park built around the corner from us where I lived. And they had a basketball court, that’s all they had. They didn’t have any other thing, baseball diamond or anything else there. And we would just go around and mess around and play. And it was just something to unwind, just an outlet, something we had to do during the summer, because we didn’t have summer camps, there were no basketball camps or anything like that. So we just went out and just played basketball, and I really got into it when I was about 15 years old.”

Later, Barr asked how a D.C. kid wound up at Seattle University.

“Well, it’s a long story,” Baylor answered. “From Washington D.C., again as I mentioned, the schools were segregated. And the major colleges, particularly the white universities, did not [recruit] the black high schools in Washington, D.C.  So I don’t think anyone had an opportunity to ever see me play. And the only offers I had gotten to go to college was from the black universities: you know, Virginia Union, black schools nearby, Howard University.

“And it so happened  a friend of mine was in Idaho. I don’t know how he got there, but it was someone that I played basketball against in Washington D.C.  He was there at the College of Idaho, and it so happened that I wanted to go away, you know, get away from the city. Because I had never really been anyplace. And I ended up going to the College of Idaho for one year. It’s a four-year school, but it’s a small college, NAIA.

“And I had a good year there, we went through our conference undefeated, and I made small-conference All-American. Then a lot of school started writing me and calling and wanted me to come there, offered me a scholarship. And Seattle University was one of the schools I visited, and I liked that better than all the other schools, so I decided to stay out west and go to Seattle University.”

You can listen to the full 15-minute interview here.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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