On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Spencer Haywood, NBA/ABA legend and Hall-of-Famer.
Born in 1949, Haywood was the eighth of 10 children with a single mother in Silver City, Mississippi, a tiny town where the racial lines were starkly drawn and a future beyond the cotton fields was hard to imagine.
Taking the opportunity to leave the stifling conditions in the rural South, Haywood at age 15 went to Chicago and then to Detroit to live with his brother. In the Motor City, he led Pershing High School to the 1967 Michigan Class A championship, something a Detroit Public High School had not done in almost four decades.
He attended the University of Detroit and helped the U.S. Olympic team win a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. In 1969, after two years in college, he decided to try to enter the NBA draft, citing family financial hardship. The NBA, however, at the time prohibited players from entering the draft until four years after their high school graduation. Haywood then signed with the ABA's Denver Rockets, where he played one season, leading the league in scoring and rebounding as a rookie.
Since he now had a professional season under his belt, he decided to challenge the NBA rule once again and signed with the Seattle Supersonics in 1969. Commissioner Walter Kennedy, however, prohibited him from playing any games with the Sonics. Haywood challenged the league all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.