Will Haywood ever be a Hall of Famer?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 26, 2013 - 12:00am

Former NBA star Spencer Haywood thought he would be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year. In fact, he was informed by a supposedly reliable source that his enshrinement was set. But when the final announcement came, his name wasn’t on the list that included Gary Payton, Bernard King, Richie Guerin, Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Roger Brown.

Haywood, 64, was the American Basketball Association (ABA) MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1969-70. This year’s inductees included Brown, another ex-ABA star. While Brown played on three ABA championship teams, he was neither a Rookie of the Year nor an MVP. From the ABA, Haywood jumped to the NBA where he suited up for Seattle, New York, New Orleans, the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington.  Haywood was only 19 when he played on the US team that captured the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, averaging 16.1 points and hitting a scorching .719 from the field. Haywood, who also played as an import in Italy, retired from the game in 1983.

There is talk that despite his accomplishments, Haywood will never be a Hall of Famer because of his tumultuous career. He dumped a six-year, $1.9 Million contract with the ABA after only a season to move to the NBA in 1970, triggering a series of lawsuits.  At the time, the NBA wouldn’t allow a player to be drafted unless his college class had graduated. Haywood went against the grain and battled the NBA, arguing for his right to leave school in order to make a living. The US Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold Haywood’s case in 1971 and it opened the doors for players to turn pro straight out of high school. While the case was in court, the NBA couldn’t hold back Haywood from playing as the league went under the gun from a series of temporary restraining orders. Protests were filed by other teams questioning Haywood’s presence in games as there were occasions that TROs were issued only hours before tip-off. Today, the NBA requires at least a year in college before a player becomes eligible for the draft.

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Haywood lived on the fast lane during his basketball career. In 1977, he married Somalia-born fashion model Iman Abdulmajid in a high-profile ceremony where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was best man. They divorced in 1987 and their daughter Zulekha is now 35. Iman, 58, retired from the ramp at 34 and remarried in 1992. Her husband is British pop star David Bowie and they have a 12-year-old daughter Alexandria. The statuesque icon owns and runs Iman Cosmestics, a $25 Million-a-year business that specializes in foundation formulations for non-Caucasian women.  

Iman’s parents were political activists who sought refugee status in Kenya. At 16, she was discovered by photographer Peter Beard en route to a political science lecture at the University of Nairobi. Iman took the fashion world by storm and Yves Saint Laurent called her his “dream woman.”

Iman was recently in the news for her remarks against racism in the fashion industry. She teamed up with other models Naomi Campbell and Bethann Hardison to issue an open letter at the opening of the New York Fashion Week early this month. “Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color,” the letter said. “No matter the intention, the result is racism.” The outspoken Iman, quoted by Jane Mulkerrins in The Evening Standard, said, “The absence of models of color sends a message to our young girls that they are not good enough, they are not beautiful enough…photography and the runways are such powerful tools and say such a lot about our society, it is so much bigger than the catwalk.”

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At the height of his basketball career, Haywood was addicted to cocaine. Once, he fell asleep during practice with the Lakers and coach Paul Westhead benched him in the run to the NBA title in 1980.  Haywood didn’t get his championship ring until after he proved sober six years later.

Haywood straightened out eventually. He made good use of his basketball earnings by investing in real estate. Haywood reportedly owns a shopping mall in Salt Lake City and 19 acres of prime real estate for development in Detroit. Now bald and bespectacled, the 6-8 son of Mississippi sharecroppers lives mainly in Las Vegas where he is involved in construction. Growing up, Haywood picked cotton when he was five and his mother earned $2 a day working the fields.

The NBA has no problems dealing with Haywood even if he sued the league and shook up its foundations by going all the way to the Supreme Court to win his case. When the US internal revenue service went after Haywood for back taxes, he was helped out by the NBA Retired Players Association with a $20,000 contribution. Haywood is often contracted as a speaker by the NBA to orient rookies and travel the world promoting the league.

In 2005, it was rumored that Haywood sold his Olympic gold medal for $31,697 but teammate Charlie Scott later admitted he did it. Haywood said his medal is safely locked up in an Ann Arbor bank vault. Fortunately, he has found peace in his second marriage like Iman. He and second wife Linda have three daughters Nikiah, 28, Shaakira, 22 and Isis, 19.

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