Spencer receives Legacy Award in Memphis and goes one on one with Larry Bird
He left the cotton fields of Mississippi for Detroit and Pershing High School and the rest is American sport’s history. Pershing High School won the 1967 Class A state championship, five other players from that team would eventually become pro athletes.
Spencer attended Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado, during the 1967-68 college season, where he averaged 28.2 points and 22.1 rebounds per game. Due to his exceptional performance and talent, Haywood made the USA Olympic Basketball team in 1968. Spencer was the leading scorer on the USA’s gold medal winning basketball team. He average 16.1 points per game, and he set a USA field goal percentage record of .719. Spencer was only 19 years-old, the youngest player to ever make a U. S. Olympic team. He held the Olympic scoring record until Kevin Durant (NBA Thunder) broke it in 2012.
Remember, this was the year that many black athletes boycotted the 1968 Olympic Games because of the overt racism. Kareem Adul Jabar was one of those athletes whose absent created a slot for Spencer Haywood. He was in the right place at the right time.
I will never forget the historical sight of sprinters John Carlos and Tommy Smith standing on the podium with black gloved fist raised to the sky protesting. They were both banished from the games. This would be a watershed moment for the 19 year-old Spencer Haywood.
Spencer returned to Detroit thinking he was going enroll at the University where he would play for his Godfather, the great Wil Robinson. Coach Rob had been promised the head coaching job, but the school reneged on its promise.
Despite his disappointment, Spencer averaged 32 points and 22 rebounds for the Titans in his sophomore year. But that turned out to be his swan song. He bolted for the ABA an upstart pro basketball league in what would become a landmark move and decision.
Spencer remembered the ABA saying to him, “We didn’t get Kareem, but we are going to go after you.” And I’m thinking, ‘How are you going to do that? ” During that time, the NBA had the ‘four-year rule,’ preventing a player from turning pro until his four years of college eligibility were up.
Haywood said. “I was a sophomore going into my junior year, and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to take the chance, we’re going to explain it to the press about why this happened.’
“When I decided to go, the NCAA and everybody went crazy, the NBA went crazy. They said the ABA is renegade people, they can’t do that, what’s wrong with you?”
As Piston’s Hall of Fame resident Dave Bing put it, “He wrecked the ABA in 1969-70, leading the league in scoring (30 points per game) and rebounds (19.5).”
“All of a sudden, Denver reneged on the contract I had signed, because they knew I couldn’t go back to college and I couldn’t go to the NBA,” Haywood said.
“So Sam Schulman (owner of the NBA’s Seattle Super Sonics) came in and said, ‘We want to break the NBA four-year rule, because we can’t compete with the ABA if they get all the good players.’ He signed me to a contract, and he says, ‘Don’t you worry about a thing, because we’re going to go in the first round of the courts, and the NBA will give in, because they know it’s the wave of the future.’
That case, Haywood vs. National Basketball Association, went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately backed Haywood by a 7-2 vote, saying athletes had the same rights as everyone else to make a living.
Spencer went on to a 12-year NBA career, scoring 19.2 points per game with 9.4 rebounds. He was a four-time NBA All-Star, and also played two seasons in Italy before retiring in 1983 from the Washington Bullets.
His stats and dominating performance alone more than qualified him to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame decades ago. Instead, he had to wait 27 years while the-powers-to-be tried to run him back mentally to the cotton fields in Mississippi. They made him practically beg for acceptance in their hall of fame.
He had to prove himself all over again to show he was worthy (which is the America way). Spencer was asked to perform community service by the NBA to help assist them to see if he had earned entry. This was so ironic, because he was in the community his entire NBA career, the only NBA player who cared longer was Dave Bing. Spencer’s priority has always been our youth.
I remember one show when a female caller called him a hero and saying we needed more positive role models like him, he didn’t agree. His response was “I am sorry to say, if your child has to look beyond his or her dinner table for their heroes, you have a problem.”
This double-standard was a hard-ship for Spencer, even though I was not there during his NBA after life of Trials and Tribulations; having to prove himself all over again. I felt his pain, he was too proud to beg, but he was left little choice.
I knew Spencer Haywood “The Man” who would do anything for a friend. He is a proud and honest individual, and when he gave you his word, you could carry it to the bank. I thank my mentor, NBA color analyst and playground basketball legend Sonny Hill for introducing me to Spencer.
He was by no means perfect, but still I would jump over ten of any other “Pro athlete Sacred Cow” (Ali and Red Auerbach exception to this rule) to get to him.
He was someone you could trust and you knew he had your back in the good times and the bad.
Drugs can often make the user paranoid, but I remember having only one bad experience with Spencer during our relationship.
He was a regular on my radio talk show Inside Sports, he participated in my Kids In Trouble, Inc Youth forums, we played one on one tennis (he kicked my ass) and we hung out in jazz clubs in DC and Detroit together. He is a jazz fanatic and was a jazz radio talk show host in Detroit.
Spencer standing tall at KIT Youth Violence forum in DC / co-host Tom Davis (R-Va.) & NFL Legend Jim Brown
He hosted the Inside Sports You Tube College Basketball Round Table, special guest were Mike Jarvis (George Washington U), Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines (Winston-Salem State), Gary Williams (Maryland U), John Chaney (Temple U), and Butch Beard of Howard U).
I think Ken Griffey, Jr. summed it up best for me, when he was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was asked by members of the sports media about the players left out because of alleged steroid use. His response was on the one, he said, “They were Hall of Fame players before they started using steroids.”
The same can be said of Spencer Haywood, he was definitely a NBA Hall of Famer before the drugs and the stupid mistakes he made during that down period in his “After NBA Life!” If drugs are the yard stick the NBA selection committee is using for induction, the hall should be half empty.
As he was being honored in Memphis during the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, he said, “To be here at the Wright Museum, the largest repository of black history in the world. Here I am here being honored, a poor boy from the cotton fields of Silver City, Miss., to Detroit, to here, it don’t get no better than that.”
I am happy that Spencer Haywood can now rest in peace and stand even taller despite, the many naysayers who are now patting him on the back, instead of stabbing him in the back. And the NBA smiling faces who told lies.
There are those who may want his legacy to be breaking the “four-year rule” but the NBA stats proved, he put ‘The Power’ in the NBA Power Forward and earned his way into the NBA Hall of Fame. I was a witness. Peace and blessings my friend.
Note Worthy/ http://www.nba.com/halloffame/ Spencer’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech