Conclusion of a multi-part series
Over 40 players, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, were drafted out of high school by NBA teams since Spencer Haywood successfully challenged the league’s ban against it. Countless others have entered the draft without finishing college, largely due to a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1971 in Haywood’s antitrust suit against the NBA.
Haywood played 12 years in the NBA, one ABA season, and a season overseas in a career that started in the mid-1970s and ended nearly a decade later. He also played on an NBA championship team (Los Angeles Lakers, 1980), was a multi-time All-Star, and eventually entered the Hall of Fame.
But none of this occurred without a personal price paid. Haywood was initially seen as a scourge by the league team owners, who misinformed many veteran players: “The owners convinced the veterans that young players would come and take their jobs,” recalled the HOFer.
“It took years and I went through hell because I was that guy who challenged the NBA and the NCAA in breaking their four-year rule.”
Haywood was traded to New York from his first NBA club in Seattle after five seasons because of teammate jealousy. There he got hooked on the city’s high life and the drugs that engulfed the times. It was his addiction that later got Haywood cut from the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980 NBA Finals because he slept during practice.
He told us he learned his lessons, some perhaps too late and some just in the nick of time. He has been sober for over 30 years.
Haywood scored over 20,000 points, grabbed over 8,500 rebounds, and amassed over 1,500 assists over the course of his career and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. His story, “The Spencer Haywood Rule,” co-written by Marc Spears and Gary Washburn (Triumph Books), is now out.
During our nearly one-hour phone interview last fall, Haywood expressed no regrets but one. He recounted when he was approached after the 1972-73 season by a relatively new shoe company based in Oregon when the 24-year-old Haywood was a star player at Seattle. Nike wanted him as a spokesman for their shoe. They offered him a $100,000 contract plus 10 percent of the company stock.
His then-agent, who had his power of attorney, accepted the cash and cashed in the stock, telling Haywood it was best because Nike wouldn’t make it for long. Nike today is worth approximately $35 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2019.
Haywood chuckled about having passed up being on the ground floor of the company known worldwide by its swoosh trademark. “I’m not angry,” he said. “I’m not hateful.”
Now in his 70s, Haywood is busy with his foundation and running his small businesses. Several years ago NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his predecessor David Stern wanted Haywood to reintroduce himself to the present generation of NBA players, many of whom are unware of his place in history. It was the late Stern that convinced him to write a book, said Haywood.
“I want everybody to read this book,” he declared. “Everybody should read it. I think all 480 players in the NBA should have the book. I would send them a free copy.”
Haywood said he’s “blessed to be alive” and has only one wish: There’s the Larry Bird Rule [a team can go over the salary cap to re-sign its players] and the Oscar Robertson Rule [unrestricted free agency]. He wants the “one and done rule” [college players must play one season before entering the draft] renamed the Spencer Haywood Rule.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.