HOUSTON — Spencer Haywood was an MVP in the old ABA. He was a two-time All-NBA first teamer, four-time NBA All-Star and a member of the champion Lakers in 1980.
But nothing ever did had the impact of Haywood v. National Basketball Association, 401 U.S. 1204 (1971), a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled, 7–2, against the NBA’s old requirement that a player may not be drafted by a NBA team unless he waited four years (which meant playing at the college level in most cases) following his graduation from high school.
Haywood is the reason that the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard were able to jump straight from the prep ranks into the NBA.
“They don’t know that, not most of the players today,” said the 63-year-old Haywood on the day that he was named a finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013. “I was kind of thinking they were a little remiss here. I thought it would be talked about as that case.
“That was horrible, hard time. I went from the lower courts to the state court all the way to the Supreme Court and that was some pretty serious stuff there. Two of us were in the courts at that time and (baseball player) Curt Flood lost his case and I won my case. It was powerful.
When you see all these players today, even the older ones on this stage with me — Bob McAdoo, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins — they all fell under my rule. But those older guys all know.”
What perhaps the younger generation doesn’t know is that Haywood led the U.S. to the gold medal in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and then played a spectacular sophomore season at the University of Detroit, averaging 32.1 points and 21.5 rebounds per game. That’s when he decided to turn pro, was first turned away by the NBA and signed on with the ABA Denver Rockets.
“This feels tremendous,” Haywood said. “It’s hard to put in words in terms of how I feel. I’m this poor kid from the cotton fields of Silver City Mississippi, population of 100 people. To be on this stage and possibly on my way to the Hall, just being a finalist, it is tremendous, just something very, very special, beyond anything I could ever imagine.”
There an argument to be made that the honor should have come much sooner.
“No,” Haywood said. “I let everything happen on God’s time and not on my time, because, of course, I would have said years ago. But this is a good time, this is the right time and this is on time.”