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Spencer Haywood

USA Basketball Book Club: The Spencer Haywood Rule

  • Date:
    Jan 29, 2021

The purpose of the USA Basketball Book Club is to share stories from and about members of the USA Basketball family. USA Basketball does not endorse the sale or purchase of these books nor the opinions expressed in them.

The Basics
Written by respected journalists Marc J. Spears and Gary Washburn (Triumph Books, Oct. 6, 2020) and largely consisting of quotes from Spencer Haywood himself, the book details the story of Haywood’s childhood in Mississippi through the present day. Most famously and often featured in the story, Haywood and the Seattle SuperSonics in 1970 sued the NBA for the right to play. At the time, the league required that a player be four years out of high school to be eligible. His case reached the highest level, the United States Supreme Court, before he won and was allowed to take the basketball court with the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics.

Haywood believes the ruling, which paved the way for future talent to make the leap from high school directly to the NBA, or to the NBA after one year of college, should be known as the Spencer Haywood Rule, hence the books title.

Haywood is candid about his past and his journey, including relationships and personal struggles, and his perspective shifts between frustration to gratitude throughout the story. His experience is relatable to anyone who has felt mixed emotions about a situation.

The book does contain mature subject matter and therefore is not recommended for children. 

USA Basketball & Olympic Connection
Prior to his infamous court case, Haywood made a name for himself when he was just 19 at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. At the time, he was the youngest player to make a U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team. Haywood averaged a team-high 16.1 points per game in leading the USA to a 9-0 record and a gold medal, and to this day, he owns the U.S. men’s Olympic single-competition record for field goals made (64).

Haywood’s retelling of the incidents before and after the protest by African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who each raised a fist while wearing a black glove on the medal podium on Oct. 16, 1968, is a fascinating perspective. Smith as the gold medalist and Carlos as the bronze medalist in the 200-meter race were joined by Australia’s silver-medal finisher Peter Norman in wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges on their jackets during the protest, among other symbols worn by Smith and Carlos. As a result of their actions, both Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Village and all three suffered threats and were ostracized for many years following the demonstration.

“I remember the aftermath, and when they came to get their stuff out of the dorm they had all of this security,” said Haywood. “I didn’t see the big deal of them just putting the glove up. It didn’t register to me that they had done something so Earth shattering. But everybody – the Olympic Committee, the broadcasters – were just going crazy and shook up about this thing.”

Historical Perspective
From a small town in Mississippi, Haywood’s journey passed through high school and college stints in Detroit, junior college in Colorado, playing for the ABA in Denver, the Seattle SuperSonics, where he was when he and team owner Sam Schulman sued the NBA, as well as playing time with the New York Knicks, New Orleans Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Bullets and in Italy for Reyer Venezia.

As a Black man, professional athlete, father, cancer survivor and at times in the past drug user, Haywood’s experience is relevant today in all of those aspects of life. The racism he experienced resonates profoundly in 2021, and his story provides important context for today’s society.

Speaking about his father, who built houses and passed away a few weeks before Spencer was born, Haywood recalls, “You can’t build too big because you can’t overshadow the people who had less. You couldn’t shine on White folks because they would burn it down.”

From being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, to his impressive resume of MVP awards and all-star honors, to being married to supermodel Iman, Haywood led a fascinating and exciting life, and many famous names pop up throughout the story.

The book also is full of references to basketball icons, such as his friendship with other basketball icons, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the late David Stern and his gratitude to Charles Barkley for supporting Haywood’s Hall of Fame induction.

For the Good of His Teammates
His work as chairman of the board of the National Basketball Retired Players Association is one of the ways in which Haywood continued to make a tremendous impact after his playing career concluded, including helping to secure healthcare for retired NBA players.

Any thoughts on the book would be incomplete without a reference to the family members surrounding Haywood, in whom he said he always found a home. His mother’s love, faith and guidance were foremost in his outlook, while his siblings provided both rivalry and comfort. He states his proudest achievement is being a father to his four daughters.

“That is my most proudest moment,” Haywood said of his daughters. “This is a truly special thing. I had fun hanging out with those guys and I’m going to have fun hanging with them now.”

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