August 20, 2013

By: Alyssa Nadelman

Spencer Haywood, a member of the NBRPA Board of Directors, lights up a room with his smile and personality. A beast on the court with career averages (NBA and ABA, combined) of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, Haywood is perhaps more famous for his impact on the game off-the-court for a 1970 legal test case that opened the NBA to undergraduate college players. Alyssa Nadelman of LegendsofBasketball.com recently caught up with Haywood to discuss (amongst other topics) his career, his status with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and his battle with prostate cancer.

Q: How does it feel to have played such a significant role in the altering of the NBA’s eligibility rules?

Well, it feels really good. What I have done also, besides the eligibility, was to be able to create an enormous amount of wealth for the athletes and the families of the athletes and also they grew out of that same principle.

Q: You were met with a lot of criticism during this time, how did that affect you?

It affected me, but I mean I knew what I was doing was right because I was dealing with the basic raw instinct of it all. That instinct was that my mother was picking cotton in Silver City, Mississippi for two dollars a day, all day long from sun up to sun down. My family was dirty poor in the delta of Mississippi. If I hadn’t done what I did, they were not going to live.

Q: Looking back at your impressive career, what would you say was the most memorable honor you received and why?

Winning the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics and then being named the MVP of the Olympics at the tender age of 19. It felt really great because I was serving the United States of America and that’s a pretty high honor. The second thing was winning my case and having Thurgood Marshall tell me what the importance and significance of my case was.

Q: What were your thoughts after learning the news that you wouldn’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year? 

I was very, very hurt because I go in four different categories. I received a letter telling me these categories I’m qualified in, first as a pioneer, second as a person that has done something very significant for this country in the Olympics and as a college All-American and Outstanding College Player of the Year. Then my first year in the ABA I went in as an underclassman and was the only player in the history of the ABA to win Rookie of the Year, leading scorer, leading rebounder, league MVP, and All-Star Game MVP. I put up 30 points per game and 19.5 rebounds a game for 82 games and the only person in the history of professional basketball that could compete with those numbers was Wilt Chamberlin, that’s it.

Q: What has your experience as a board director for the NBRPA been like?

It has been interesting, very interesting. I like where we’re going, I like how (President & CEO) Arnie D. Fielkow is leading us in the right direction. (Chairman of the Board) Otis Birdsong is a good person, he’s really got some great ideas, as well as (Board Member) Rick Barry. The rest of the board is just full of hardworking people.

Q: Not many people know that you’re battling prostate cancer. How are you doing?

I feel “irie” (a Jamaican word meaning powerful and pleasing). I’m doing well. Let me bring you up to date on how I got to this point. I eat well, work out, play a lot of golf and pray. I go to get a physical every six months, so when I was diagnosed my PSA had gone up like five and a half. Next, they did a biopsy, which detected the prostate cancer. There is a history of it in my family, so I accepted it. Soon after, I spent six weeks here in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, where I did six speeches to prospective players coming into the NBA. I spoke to them about the importance and legacy of what they’re coming into. That people have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears out there on this floor so they could be in this position. We went from there and spent the next four days with the USA basketball teams in training, getting ready for the summer games. Then I did what I love doing, beating Clyde Drexler at the Wynn in golf. I was recruiting him for the board.

Then I went to Detroit at the Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield to have what is called “robotic” prostate surgery, it’s considered to be less evasive. The recovery time is very quick, I think I should be out on the golf course three weeks after the procedure, and this is my second week. I’ve been walking and swimming throughout my recovery. I’m in the process of getting in better shape so everything is good. I just want to say to the members go get yourself checked, get your blood checked, get your PSA count and if they need any service or help, my number and my email is available to any and everyone. I can’t help myself unless I help someone else, kind of like the 12-step recovery program.