Spencer & friends; Mike Jarvis, Bighouse Gaines, Butch Wilson, Gary Williams and Butch Beard
He grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi where his mother earned two-dollars a day picking cotton. He would leave those cotton fields for the city of Detroit and leave behind the mental and physical chains of slavery.
Spencer Haywood left those cotton fields for the city of Detroit where he would become a legend on the playgrounds and high school basketball courts. Instead of picking cotton he made a career out of picking rebounds off the backboards and scoring baskets in record numbers.
His high school basketball performances earned him a scholarship to Trinidad College where he averaged 28 points and 22 rebounds a game for one season. He returned home to play at the University of Detroit and averaged an eye popping 32 points and 22 rebounds.
Trinidad and the University of Detroit were just warm up stops on his basketball journey. He would be only 18 years old in 1968 when he led the United States Olympic team to the gold medal in Mexico City. This was the same year sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their historical statement against racial segregation in America. During the presentations of medals they silently raised their black fist signature gloves in protest. The protest was heard around the world.
George Foreman followed their act of defiance by waving the American flag in the ring after winning a Gold Medal in boxing. Those were three unforgettable moments and one moment Spencer would later say “I would rather forget. Tommie and John were putting their futures in jeopardy and were banished from the Olympic Village for their defiant act. If you were black and you were not going to support them, it was best you kept it to yourself.”
Instead of returning to the University of Detroit Spencer joined the newly organized American Basketball Association (ABA). In Denver he immediately became the face of the new league when he averaged 30 points and 19 rebounds a game. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year.
Despite his basketball glory and bright lights and big cities, Spencer never forgot the cotton fields in his native Mississippi. He remembered the long hours his mother labored in those fields picking cotton for pennies on a dollar. His choice to leave college was easy, turning pro he would be able to make those cotton fields just a bad memory.
In 1970 with the support and encouragement of his mentor and high school coach Will Robinson, he decided to challenge the NBA’s volunteer slavery rule, “No college no play.”
The challenge would be a very lonely journey and sometimes it was hard to tell whether his new NBA Seattle Supersonic teammates were playing with him or against him. The one man he knew was in his corner was team owner Sam Schulman. Schulman was the NBA’s Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavs) long before Cuban.
He marched to his own drummer; while Spencer was suing the NBA for trying to bar him, Schulman was suing the league for violating anti-trust laws. If those were not enough headaches for Spencer, the University of Detroit and the ABA was suing him for leaving school early and breach of contract respectively.
Those were difficult times for a young man who had not yet celebrated his 21st birthday. There were times when he was served with injunctions just before the tip-off of a game and banished from the arena. He slept in cars and in the team bus waiting for the game to end. The injunctions became a guessing game. It was hard to tell where and when the next injunction would be served.
Spencer played in only 33 games in the 1970-71 NBA season, starting, stopping and starting again with each temporary injunction.
The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, ruled in his favor and he later became “Public Enemy No. 1” in the NBA.
He had to grow up early and he became a “Man Child” before his time. There will be 24 players playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Dallas, Texas in 2010, 21 of the All-Stars came into the NBA and became instant millionaires thanks to Spencer’s kicking down the door to free agency.
He blazed the path for the likes of Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dywane Wade and Kwame Brown. But there are too many of them who don’t have a clue to who Spencer is as it relates to them and the NBA.
They don’t know, thanks to the NBA and brothers in so-called major media who refuse to take a stand and have fallen for just anything as it relates to Black History. It looks like most of them (media) have been brainwashed by the NBA and have followed their lead in pretending Spencer Haywood is just a figment of their imagination. For proof, do a Google search for “NBA History: African-American Influence and Breaking Down Barriers.” Spencer Haywood’s name is nowhere to be found. The sad part of this puzzle is that no one in the media has asked the question why? Charles Barkley, Michael Wilbon, Stephan A. Smith, etc. all have an opinion on everything else but refuse to address the Spencer Haywood case.
Spencer’s groundbreaking accomplishment was more important than Earl Lloyd becoming the first black to play in an NBA game or Red Auerbach playing five black players for the first time. Free agency impacted every NBA player black and white.
Earl Lloyd was denied his rightful place in NBA History for 50 years until I asked NBA legendary coach the late Red Auerbach to join me in a campaign to get him inducted into the hall of fame. Earl was finally inducted in 2002. NFL Green Bay Packer legendary safety Willie Wood was also ignored for decades. He stood by and watched as his teammates were voted into the hall of fame one by one. He was left on the sidelines and reduced to a cheerleader. In 1985 I started an “Induct Willie Wood” campaign with long time Washington Time sports columnist Dick Heller on my sports talk show ‘Inside Sports.’ Willie was inducted into the hall of fame in 1989.
Boston Celtic coach and benefactor, Doc Rivers was quoted saying, “For the most part, Spencer has just been taken for granted by many of us. But what he did was huge for everyone. We should all be thanking him.”
After the court ruled in Spencer’s favor he continued to play heads and shoulders above the rim. In 1972 and 1973, he was on the All-NBA first team and became a chartered member of the All-Star game. During that era he was one of the five best players in the league.
I met Spencer Haywood shortly after his arrival in the “Big Apple” New York City. I was introduced to Spencer by CBS and NBA color analyst Sonny Hill. Spencer would later become a regular on my sports talk show ‘Inside Sports.’ Sonny Hill played an important role in my success as a sports talk radio personality—he was “All Access.”
The trade to the New York Knicks took Spencer over the top when it came to the fast life and drugs. He took the Big Apple by storm and made all the rich and famous parties driving a Rolls Royce and with his beautiful wife, Iman on his arm. She was one of the world’s top fashion models. Frank Sinatra once said in song, “New York, New York if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” Spencer Haywood had made it!
When Spencer was at the top of his game as a NBA “Power Forward” he was one of the best. There were several other players who I thought was his equal, Gus Johnson of the Washington Bullets and George McGinnis of the Philadelphia 76ers. They also put the POWER into the forward position. They had the finesse of ballet dancers with a linebacker’s mentally. When they met head to head it was pro basketball at its best. I would take anyone of these guys and match them with any similar Power Forwards in the NBA’s 50 Greatest (Barkley, DeBusschere, Lucas). I would bet Spencer, George and Gus would win.
Spencer’s love affair with the Knicks was over before he could say “Where is the next party?” He suffered a knee injury and that didn’t help his career. Spencer had more time on his hands than NBA games and depression set in and the drugs were breakfast, lunch and dinner. In 1979 the Knicks shot an air ball to the Los Angeles Lakers and traded him, it was the beginning of his end.
Evidently, the Knicks thought, with the Lakers Spencer would feel more at home. The Lakers were known as Drug Central of the NBA. It was said the best high in the NBA was found in the Los Angeles Lakers locker room. He hit rock bottom at the end of the 1979-80 season when the team suspended him in the midst of the NBA Finals because of his drug use. It is rumored that Spencer went to sleep on the court while doing stretching exercise.
The Lakers met the Philadelphia 76ers in game six of the NBA Championship finals, and 6’9 rookie Magic Johnson started at Center in the place of the injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The Lakers defeated the 76ers and Magic scored 42 points, handed out 12 assist and pulled down 15 rebounds. Spencer never got to see the game because he was high on drugs. The Lakers released him. His next stop was Italy, France for a year and he then returned to the NBA to play with the Washington Bullets from 1981 to 1983.
When his contract was up in 1983 I could tell that Spencer had a lot on his mind and he still had a mission to fulfill. One of the things we talked about was him getting his ring from the Lakers for the 1980 championship season. He was voted a share of the money but never got his ring. He was also concerned about his daughter Zulekha now that he and his wife Iman were having their problems. He seemed to be more concerned about reclaiming his NBA name.
Spencer had a passion for children and had no patience for politicians who used children only as a sound bite. He was proud of being sober from alcohol and drugs and the constant battle it took to stay that way. I took him for his word because he never did drugs or alcohol in my presence. Spencer knew all the athletes and sporting personalities who had drug problems in DC. The celebrity drug community in every city is a small and close knit group. The names he gave me I already had because of my street network. Some these same personalities are still sitting on NBA benches and hiding behind television microphones.
The great Power Forward I once enjoyed watching was now just a shadow of himself, his greatness seldom found its way on to the basketball court at Capitol Centre. Despite his diminishing skills he was still a great human being and a joy to be around. He always kept it real.
He cared little about material things. I remember when he was leaving town for over a week on a road trip with the team. He wanted to leave his Rolls Royce with me to have it serviced while he was gone. My wife Hattie almost had a fit and refused to allow me to keep his car. I called Spencer and told him the bad news about her being worried about me having an accident. He then asked me to put her on the telephone. I gave Hattie the telephone and two minutes later she was saying “Okay.” I don’t know what he said, but Spencer had away with words. She later told me he said “Hattie I have insurance and Harold has a license, what’s the problem?”
I was disappointed when I read the story by Tim Povtak senior NBA writer for the blog FANHOUSE how the NBA had pimped him and brought him to his knees while he tried to re-claim his name.
The story said that Spencer had tried to lobby the league for several years to name the NBA entry rule after him, like the Supreme Court ruling that still bears his name, but that effort wilted and failed.
I appreciate the writer Povtak being diplomatic and using the word “Lobby” instead of begging, because that is exactly what it sounded like to me.
According to Povtak, the rule has been altered a few times through the collective bargaining agreement with the union, yet the premise has remained the same. Thanks to NBA Union Representative Billy Hunter, if it ain’t about him you can count yourself out. The Billy Hunter that I know is not going to stand up for anyone but himself. He sold Spencer out to the NBA.
Povtak goes on to say “It took the league years to gradually warm up to Haywood after what he had done. He has been sober now for over 3 decades. He has spent the last 2 decades as a league ambassador, traveling the world to promote the NBA. He served as a board member for the NBA Retired Players Association. He still speaks often to young players about the pitfalls that once swallowed him up.” It sounds like the NBA made him do community service to re-claim his name and they are now throwing him a bone during NBA All-Star weekends.
I am going to address the first sentence in the paragraph above, “It took the league years to warm up to Haywood after what he had done!” What had he done? I am reading between the lines that what Spencer had done was drugs and he fought the system that wanted to keep him from earning a living playing professional basketball. The so-called crimes he committed, were they crimes enforced across the board?
If the NBA is punishing Spencer for doing drugs and if drugs are the issue then the NBA Hall of Fame should be half empty.
I would hope the NBA is not punishing him for standing up for his civil rights against their bias rule on free agency. If that is the case according to the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court they were the problem and not Spencer Haywood.
But there is a problem that is Spencer’s and his alone. When I read he said “I have two daughters who play basketball, they don’t know who I am in regard to what I did once. There were times when I was beaten down so badly, I felt almost ashamed of what I did.” That was not the Spencer Haywood the proud black man that inspired me to keep telling the truth, keep my head up and stay strong!
First, Spencer, have you heard of Home Schooling? Who can teach your children about your history better than you? Your children are your legacy and you and only you must make sure they are armed with the real story as it relates to you.
Our history is being stolen, ignored and others have used it for their own financial gain for over 400 years, for example; “Inside Sports” was a title my wife Hattie thought of in 1971 for my new radio sports talk show. John Walsh a writer for the Style section of the Washington Post decided in 1978 to take my title to New York City and discover Inside Sports Magazine. This is the American way, he followed the same pattern of Christopher Columbus when he discovered America with native Indians already occupying the land. How can you discover something that is already taken?
This was my fault I should have trademarked the name as I was advised from the very beginning. I made it easy for him. Guess who owns the trade mark to Inside Sports, how about News Week Magazine own by the Washington Post newspaper! When I changed my show title to The Original Inside Sports, Walsh changed the magazine’s title to The Original Inside Sports Magazine! Walsh left a paper trail that Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could follow. It is too bad it was not murder he committed in America what he did is called “White Collar Crime,” people like Walsh don’t have original ideas of their own so they take from others.
Spencer, you had a front row seat as the NBA and Billy Hunter proved they could care less about your pioneering efforts and great pro basketball career. There will be black brothers in media who will congratulate you on your pioneering efforts at NBA All-Star weekend. The faces will look familiar so ask them “where have you been for the past 30 years?” See if Billy Hunter can look you in your eyes and say “Spencer I tried.” Keep it real!
Our history will be overlooked and made out to be a joke if we don’t take charge, for example; Mike & Mike celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday several years ago on their morning show. Th show is heard and seen on ESPN nationally. Mike Greenberg in a discussion about Rev. King called him out of his name when he referred to him as “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Coon King, Jr.” The silence from blacks heard, seen and read at media outlets like PTI, FANHOUSE, AROUND THE HORN, WASHINGTON POST and USA TODAY was deafening. Not a protested word was heard or read!
Boxing promoter Don King says “Racism is the biggest business in the world.”
Spencer, if we don’t keep our own history it won’t be kept. Most will celebrate Black History Month the same way NBC television tried to do in New York City several years ago. The cafeteria’s black chef made up a menu of fried chicken, collar greens, potato salad, chitlings, yams and cornbread and a drink of choice (no desert, watermelon was out of season). The menu title “Black History Month Menu All You Can Eat.”
What happen to food for thought with names on the menu like, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, William DuBoise, Paul Roberson and the list goes on and on?
In 1993, Jill Nelson penned a book titled “Volunteer Slavery” as it related to black writers and employees of the Washington Post newspaper. According, to her book when she joined the Washington Post in 1986 she became a Volunteer Slave. Jill and Spencer have something in common, twenty-four years later little or nothing has changed.
In all honesty and fairness we cannot continue to lay all the blame of racism at the doorstep of the NBA and the Washington Post. We (Blacks) must take some responsible for not being able to see the forest for the trees!
Check and see who owns and calls the shots at BET, Essence Magazine, Radio One and TV One. Ebony Magazine recently sold their archives to the Internet giant Google. This means in the future if we want information about our history we are going to have to buy it from Warner Brothers, Comcast and Google.
In 2010, forty-five years after the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, I have to ask myself why is it we have not developed our own giants in media? Where are our media outlets that can compare with or challenge, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, etc?
Where are the voices in black media who we can compare with or challenge Larry King, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Russ Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Diane Sawyer, Barbra Waters and Katie Couric?
The more things change the more they remain the same. Mississippi and two-dollars a day are not as far away as we think!