“Basketball is at its best right now,” Haywood said in a recent MSR phone interview. Today’s players “are so conditioned in what they do. It’s a different style. The evolution of the game is so much better.”
Back in 2008, Haywood was the subject of our Black History pop quiz that we gave to Minnesota Timberwolves players after a game: “Who is Spencer Haywood and why is he so important?” Only one player, then-rookie Kevin Love, got it right — his Black teammates were stumped.
“You made them all the money and they have no idea who you are,” responded a bemused Haywood when told this. He also wasn’t surprised that Love answered correctly: “His dad and I played together,” he recalled.
Why is Haywood so important? He successfully challenged in court the NBA’s rule against players entering right after high school or before four years of college playing.
“I signed with Seattle [in 1970], and the league filed an injunction for me not to play. I then filed an injunction to play,” stated Haywood, who easily recalls the PA announcer telling the crowd, “‘We have an illegal player on the floor — number 24 — and he must be escorted out of the arena and off the grounds the arena stands on.’ I sat out in the cold in Cincinnati at 20 years old.”
The Mississippi-born Haywood and his family relocated to Detroit in 1964, and three years later he led his high school to a state basketball title. After a year in junior college, where he averaged nearly 30 points a game, the 6’-8” Haywood made the 1968 USA Olympic basketball team and led in scoring.
Haywood then attended the University of Detroit but left after one season — the school reneged on hiring his high school coach as its head coach as originally promised in their recruiting him. This prompted him to play in the ABA, which didn’t have any age restrictions.
“I averaged 30 points a game and 19.5 rebounds” in his rookie season, continued Haywood, who’s the National Basketball Retired Players Association vice-chair.
Haywood’s suit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the NBA settled and allowed him in. He made the league’s first team in 1972 and 1973 and second team in 1974 and 1975. He was a four-time All-Star.
He helped the Supersonics, now in Oklahoma City, to its first playoff berth. He also played on a championship club (Los Angeles, 1980). A cocaine addiction forced him out of the NBA for a couple of years, but Haywood returned and finished his career in Washington (1981-83).
As a result of Haywood’s legal efforts, players now can go into the NBA as young as age 19 — the “one-and-done” rule. But he wants it renamed the Spencer Haywood Rule. “I am asking the [NBA] players union to [stop calling] the rule ‘one-and-done.”
Finally, in a half-joking manner, Haywood suggested that each current NBA player should donate to his foundation “at least a dollar” for his having opened the door for them decades earlier. With the millions they’re making these days, they could easily afford even a bit more.
“There are 490 players in the NBA… It’s only fair that they throw [at least] five dollars to [my] foundation.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.