That’s where my father went shoulder-to-shoulder with Baylor.
Mel Streeter was a talent in his own right then. He had played at the University of Oregon in the early 1950s, when he was the only Black player on his teams. (Imagine that as you watch the Ducks, bursting with Black talent, in the Sweet Sixteen of the men’s tournament.) After moving with my mom to Seattle, he thrived in the fast-paced, wide-open style favored in Seattle’s powerful A.A.U. league, where games were played in front of packed crowds and were often featured prominently in the sports pages.
Baylor was a part of that mix. He suited up for a powerhouse A.A.U. team: Westside Ford.
I wish now that I had asked my father more about his one-and-only game against Baylor, more about that league and those times. But dad died 15 years ago. As close as we were, some of his history will always be cut off from me. I don’t know what team he was on when he played against Baylor. I don’t know if it was a big game with high stakes — like the battles that helped decide who would head off to the A.A.U. national championship.
Thankfully, I have a firm recollection of the look on my father’s face as he spoke of how, in a head-to-head matchup between two tall, lithe and powerful forwards, he held Baylor to two first-half points. Oh, and dad never let any of his four sons forget that while he was holding down Baylor, he was lighting up the scoreboard. Even before my older brother Jon knew I was writing this column, the moment he heard about Baylor’s death he sent me a text with his own recollections of our family’s well-told tale: “Dad scored 11 in the first half!”
But how did the game end?
Whenever he came to the story’s backstretch, my dad would always smile and bring me close, letting me know that this short fable was not actually about him.
As it turned out, angered at being shown up, Baylor came out in the second half determined to teach Mel Streeter a lesson. As dad told it, the entire back half of the game was essentially a blur as Baylor whipped past my father for layups or arcing, orbital jump shots. Baylor didn’t just turn the tables: He made known that he was simply a different kind of cat. He shut down dad with lockdown defense, and torched dad for 24 points.
Whenever my father told this story, which was usually while we shot hoops on the basket that hung over our old garage, he never ended it sounding defeated. His smile widened and his face lit up as looked straight at me and spoke of Baylor with awe. “There was nothing I could do,” dad would say. “He was just too much.”