Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Elgin Baylor Sues the NBA for Discrimination—Finally! A Definition of Irony We All Can Understand

Sometimes it is better to remain silent and be though a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.—Abraham Lincoln

Until today, the worst thing I could say about Elgin Baylor was that the Los Angeles Clippers didn't do very well during his tenure as the Vice President and General Manager of Basketball Operations. As of this moment, you can add not too bright to the list.

Because Elgin Baylor is suing the Clip-Show—or more accurately owner Donald Sterling plus another executive— and the National Basketball Association for...employment discrimination!

That's priceless.

Many observers feel Baylor has a secure place in the NBA's history books as one of the worst triggermen to ever control a franchise's personnel.

He presided as a jester in the king's thrown over many a draft-day misadventure—Michael Olowokandi (first overall), Danny Ferry (second overall and he went to Italy rather than play for LA), Darius Miles (third overall), Shaun Livingston (fourth overall), Lorenzen Wright (seventh overall), Bo Kimble (eighth overall), Joe Wolf (13th overall), and Randy Woods (16th overall).

In 1995, the Clippers took Antonio McDyess with the second overall pick. They left Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, and Michael Finley on the board. Even better, Los Angeles shipped Antonio—by no means a slouch—out the door to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Rodney Rogers and Brent Barry.

The next year (1996), the Clip-Show grabbed Wright with the seventh overall pick while guys like Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, Jermaine O'Neal, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas remained on the big board.

In his final masterpiece, Elgin oversaw the 2004 draft where Los Angeles took Livingston over a roster of talent including Devin Harris, Josh Childress, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, and Jameer Nelson.

Along the way, Baylor had an uncanny ability to avoid the lottery when genuine saviors were available. And I do mean uncanny because check out the Clippers' record during Elgin's 22-year-long reign of terror:

Year W L
86-87 12 70
87-88 17 65
88-89 21 61
89-90 30 52
90-91 31 51
91-92 45 37
92-93 41 41
93-94 27 55
94-95 17 65
95-96 29 53
96-97 36 46
97-98 17 65
98-99 9 41
99-00 15 67
00-01 31 51
01-02 39 43
02-03 27 55
03-04 28 54
04-05 37 45
05-06 47 35
06-07 40 42
07-08 23 59

There are a lot of lottery chances tucked in that ugliness.

During Elgin Baylor's 22 years, the Los Angeles Clippers amassed a 619-1153 record for staggering winning percentage of .349. The squad made the playoffs four times and won a single opening round series.

In 22 years.

The icing on the cake?

Elgin Baylor was hired for the position of VP/GM of basketball operations in 1986 after amassing an incredible record of 86-135 as head coach of the New Orleans Jazz. He then held the position for 20 years of unparalleled futility.

I repeat, he KEPT his job through repeated instances of conduct after being hired for basically no reason.

The planets aligned in 2006 and the Clippers finally won a playoff series. Baylor received Executive of the Year for his accomplishments (remember, he's suing the NBA as well for employment discrimination).

Then Elgin retires/is fired in October of 2008, waits several months, and files suit. His complaint alleges he was "discriminated against and unceremoniously released from his position with the team on account of his age and his race."

With one foot already in his mouth, Baylor manages to squeeze the other in: the complaint states that he was "grossly underpaid during his tenure with the Clippers, never earning more than $350,000 per year."

Oh, poor, poor Elgin. How my heart is rent with sorrow.

I understand he's saying that, relative to other NBA executives, his pay was under scale. Unfortunately, there are quite a few problems for ol' Elgin:

A. Elgin Baylor probably should have been fired. Many times. He should be grateful for "only" making six figures for as long as he did. It's tough to argue you're undercompensated for incompetence.

B. Elgin Baylor is African American. That obviously doesn't preclude a finding of racial discrimination in a league dominated by African American players, but it's gonna be a tough sell. Donald Sterling is a lot of things and many are not badges of honor; I've never heard him accused of being racist and the charge doesn't pass the smell test considering how long Sterling kept him aboard despite good reason to dump him.

C. Elgin Baylor is 74—that's true. But he was also the longest tenured individual at a similar-type position in the NBA. And did I mention he was bad? Really bad? Again, tough sell.

D. Anyone who has opened a newspaper or turned on a television in the last six weeks knows that it's probably not a wise time to be mashing 'grossly underpaid' and 'earning $350,000 per year' together in the same sentence. All the more so when that sentence concerns compensation for working in an NBA front office.

I'm sure that's a rough job, don't get me wrong. I'm also sure there are thousands of people who'd be willing to do it for a fraction of what Elgin considers "gross" undercompensation.

The really sad thing is that the Clippers would probably be a better team for it today.

Here's a guy who was hired for ostensibly no cause, employed for 22 years in an industry that sees turnover like none other despite gross and endemic incompetence, and rewarded for his "efforts" with more money than most average Americans see in a lifetime.

Then Elgin Baylor turns around and sues the very man and organization that employed him lo those many years. For employment discrimination.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of irony. Not rain on your wedding day or a stop sign when you're already late—that's just bad luck.

Nope. Irony, thy name is Elgin Baylor.

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