Gail Goodrich shares fond and funny memories of Elgin Baylor

Like so many Angelenos first introduced to pro basketball in 1960 when the Lakers moved from Minnesota, Gail Goodrich wanted to be just like Elgin Baylor. Baylor’s play and Chick Hearn’s narration were the introduction to the allure of the NBA to the city.

Unlike so many of those Angelenos, Goodrich eventually got to play with Baylor and see past the reserved, understated veneer that Baylor projected outward.

Since Baylor’s death on Monday, much has been written about his on-court greatness and legacy, about how his game inspired basketball’s evolution above the rim. But for Baylor’s teammates, there was so much more … like how he always seemed to have the answers to everything.

“I think Elgin was as great as anybody. But he was very reserved. He was very smart. He was always, on a personal note, he always knew everything about everything,” Goodrich told the Times on Tuesday. “He knew about the horses. Loved the horses. Knew about animals because he loved animals. One of his favorites: ‘What is the fastest animal in the world?’ It’s a cheetah. But not many people really knew that. He always knew that stuff — that trivia. He was a trivia nut.”

Here’s a piece of trivia that Laker fans might not know: Why did the team stop playing poker together?

“He’d take all our money. He was a poker player. We had to ban poker on the team because he — and Jerry West, they were taking guys’ per diem on the road,” Goodrich said with a big laugh. “He’d beat Chick all the time in gin rummy. All the time. And he’d take Chick’s money.

“They’d land in a city and they’d start betting on whose luggage would come out on the luggage shelf first — those kinds of things.”

Told that when the Lakers were in Minneapolis, Baylor had a habit of pranking his teammates by stealing their shoes when they slept, Goodrich again laughed.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “… He had a great personality. He’d give everyone nicknames. But he could be really reserved. He wasn’t out-going to the press. He wasn’t. He was very reserved. He went about his way. He’d answer questions, be very, very nice, but he wasn’t just out-going than most of the other players in Los Angeles.”

Highlights from Elgin Baylor’s NBA career.

Baylor used to tease his teammates with his strength and grip — more than one NBA legend, including Julius Erving, compared Baylor to Kawhi Leonard in talks with The Times on Monday.

“He was so strong and then he’d say to his teammates — me included — ‘All right, take your best shot. Try and take it out of my hands. Hit it out,’” Goodrich said. “Guys would take their fists and hit the ball as he held it out and couldn’t budge it. He was so strong and so physical and yet so quick.

“There was no one better.”