Last year there were two Sonics on the Hall of Fame ballot: Gary Payton and Spencer Haywood. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they would both be inducted. Payton was, Haywood was not. It was a travesty.
During his career, Haywood averaged 20.3 points and 10.5 rebounds on 47% shooting. Spencer spent one season in the ABA, which he dominated, averaging 30 points and 19.5 rebounds. In that one season he was named both Rookie of the Year and MVP. He was the MVP of the All-Star Game, named All-Rookie First Team AND All-ABA First Team. He joined the NBA and the Seattle SuperSonics in 1970. In five seasons with Seattle he averaged 24.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. He won an NBA Championship in 1980 with the Los Angeles Lakers, was a four time NBA All-Star, two time All-NBA Second Team, and his number 24 jersey is retired by the Sonics. His 29.2 points per game in the 1972-73 season and 13.4 rebounds per game in the '73-'74 season are both Sonics franchise records. With accolades like that, how could he not be in the Hall of Fame? Well, like so many other things, the answer lies deeper than the numbers.
It all started in 1970. The NBA back then had a four-year rule, where a player could not be deemed eligible to play unless his college class had graduated (even if he, himself, had not). This is what caused Haywood to initially go to the ABA, as he was not yet old enough to qualify for the NBA. But in 1970, Sonics owner Sam Schulman threw caution to the wind and signed Haywood anyway. The NBA quickly filed an injunction to block Haywood from playing. Haywood and Schulman responded by filing an anti-trust suit against the league, claiming that the four-year rule infringed on Haywood's right to make a living. The NBA's attorney for that case? The man who could possibly be sharing the podium with Haywood in Springfield this year, David Stern (Anyone think he held a grudge?).
Haywood spent the season being booed, spit on, served court papers while on the bench and being chastised during intros. "The P.A. announcer would say to the crowd, ‘We have an illegal player on the Seattle roster,' and that's how I was introduced," Haywood said. "Then I'd have to leave the building after they'd serve me with the injunction. I remember being in Cincinnati, and we were playing the Royals and I stood outside of Cincinnati Gardens in the snow waiting for the game to end so I could rejoin the team. I went through a lot of humiliation." The case eventually reached all the way up to the Supreme Court. In response, the NBA instituted a "hardship rule," which allowed players to enter the league before the four-year moratorium, as long as they could provide proof that they were doing so for financial reasons.
Haywood's case essentially paved the way for guys like Shawn Kemp, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant to enter the NBA straight from high school. It even paved the way for players to leave college early, much like... I don't know... just about EVERY player in the NBA currently. However, Haywood says, the players don't seem to give him any respect for it. "I'm still a pariah," Haywood said. "I'll be around Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo (Anthony) at USA Basketball camp and they won't talk to me. What they don't know, or want to know, is without me, there's no them. But they're in denial."
Last year, Haywood was told by someone within the NBA that he had been inducted into the Hall. He was elated. However, the NBA does not make the decisions, the Naismith Hall of Fame Committee does, and it turns out Haywood was not inducted after all. "Someone in the NBA told me I was in ... This isn't a punch in the stomach. It's below the stomach." The Hall's selection process is shrouded in mystery: no one knows who votes or how they vote. "Is it a mystery? A conspiracy? Ahh, I don't know. I've been told not to talk to the press or anything, it will mess up my future Hall of Fame chances, blah, blah, blah. But I don't believe in muzzling myself ... I'm just tired of being the person that fights battles. I just want to be like a hippie in the Sixties now. Peace and love."
Al Ross, Haywood's attorney in that infamous case against the NBA, certainly didn't believe in muzzling himself either. He was quoted as saying, "You know what your headline should be? 'Shame on you, Hall of Fame committee. You're a disgrace to the profession!' " We agree, Al.
So we at Sonics Rising are officially casting our ballot for Spencer Haywood to be inducted into the 2014 Hall of Fame Class. If you wish to join us on this crusade, we ask you to use the hashtag #HaywoodHOF on the various social networks. If you wish to include Spencer in your tweets, his username is @SpencerHaywood. You can also send tweets to the Naismith Hall of Fame by including their username, @HoopHall.
Good luck, Spencer.