How Spencer Haywood’s battle with NBA changed the game forever

DETROIT – Elite basketball players often turn pro right after high school, or after a few years of college.

Spencer Haywood is a former NBA player and lived in Detroit. Haywood was born in 1949 in a town called Silver City Mississippi.

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“It is not a city, nor does it have any silver. It’s just cotton fields, farming,” Haywood said.

Haywood was the 8th of 10 siblings.

“You’re either planting cotton, picking cotton or chopping cotton. To keep people on the farm, they devised this indentured slavery ... Borrow money, never pay it back. It was a cycle,” Haywood said.

Haywood wanted out. He took a bus north, to live with his brother Roy at Bowling Green State University. His brother signed Haywood up for a high school all-star basketball game in Detroit.

Haywood was 15 years old at the time. He was later adopted by a coach, Will Robinson, and another family. Haywood became a Detroiter. He even won a state title at Pershing High School.

After a solid year at a junior college. He was chosen to represent the U.S. in the 1968 Olympics and won gold. Haywood then came back to the University of Detroit for his sophomore season.

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“I ended up being the outstanding college player of the year ... Averaging 33 points, 22 rebounds per game,” he said.

Haywood then went pro, He went to the ABA’s Denver Rockets where he was the MVP, the rookie of the year and the MVP of the all-star game.

The owner of the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics found out about Haywood and wanted him. So, he offered him a better contract. There was one problem though. Haywood wasn’t four years removed from high school, which at the time, was an NBA rule.

That’s when Haywood decided to take on the NBA. As the case went through the courts, Haywood was often booed and often disrespected -- not even the players association supported him.

Haywood Vs. the National Basketball Association went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was decided on March 1, 1971, in Haywood’s favor. Haywood was 21 years old at the time.

That decision changed the game forever. It paved the way for other players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and others to join the NBA sooner.

Haywood would go on to have a 14-year career in the league. He averaged 20.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. A drug addiction plagued him toward the end of his career, but he said he’s been clean for more than 30 years.

Despite tensions with the NBA for decades, Haywood was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Haywood believes the time has come for something else. The rule that today is commonly referred to as the, “Early entry rule,” or the, “One and done,” be officially named for what it is -- “The Spencer Haywood Rule.”

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