Sonics Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood has had a tumultuous career – and life. As many know, he started his time in the NBA by suing the very league he wanted to join. At the time (1970), the NBA did not allow players to join the big leagues until they had played a full four years in college. Haywood took his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, allowing him to join the Seattle SuperSonics.
It didn’t get any easier from there, as Haywood was constantly booed and some teams would refuse to play against him. One time in Cincinnatti, he was forced to leave the arena. He had to wait outside in the snow until the game was over.
None of this stopped Haywood, however. He grew up in Silver City, Mississippi, where he would pick cotton as a child for $2 a day. “That’s where I learned work ethic,” Haywood said, “because you were working for your food, working for your family.” Haywood’s family had so little that they had to wait until other children in the neighborhood got new toys for Christmas and threw out their old ones. “We’d pull the toys out of the junkyard and put them all back together and my mother would declare Christmas on that day,” he said.
All of this explains why Haywood worked so hard, both as a player and as a man.
Last night, Spencer Haywood spoke at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at the Black Box Theater in Edmonds. He received a standing ovation as he talked about the trials and tribulations of the various fights he’s had throughout his life, and why he had to fight them.
“I knew I was doing the right thing because at that time my mom and my brothers and sisters were still picking cotton in Mississippi,” Haywood said. “My mom had been picking cotton and chopping cotton since she was 3 years old and her back went out. She was crawling on the ground picking cotton.
“So that was the whole motivation for the fight that was to come.”
Haywood also spoke about Seattle and the Sonics and what being a Sonic means to him.
“When I arrived in Seattle that day, I said to (Sonics owner) Sam Schulman, this place is like a postcard, so beautiful,” Haywood said. “The people in Seattle were different than any place I’d ever been.”
Haywood had his number 24 retired by the Sonics in 2007, shortly before the team left for Oklahoma City. When he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, the league encouraged him to represent himself as a member of the Thunder, if not the New York Knicks or Denver Nuggets, whom he also played for. They wanted him to be represented by a current club. Haywood wasn’t having it.
“I owe it to Seattle to be a Sonic,” he said.
Haywood also had some encouraging words about that team once again being part of the league, stating that “we’ll get a chance to bring the NBA back.”
“Sonics are forever and trust me, we’re coming back. Soon, very soon.”
You can watch the full interview below, thanks to the Everett Herald.