Spencer Haywood would register as a basketball player in the public consciousness even if he had never existed: the name Spencer Haywood is just so perfect (Haywood, hardwood) that a smart basketball movie would have sooner or later cast a character by that moniker. But Spencer Haywood is a real man — and during the late 1960s and early 70s Haywood was the man around any hoop court he happened to grace. Tonight he gains shamefully late entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. But for the basketball cognoscenti, Spencer Haywood has always been a luminary.
Haywood lived the life too, marrying the Somali supermodel Iman (long before rocker David Bowie married her) and generally embodying a certain 60s/70s cool that even Doctor J must on occasion have envied. An Olympic gold medal winner (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes and other iconoclasts) in the world-spinning year of 1968, Spencer Haywood led the USA team in scoring. At the University of Detroit, he averaged 32.1 points and 21.5 (not a typo) rebounds a game. His rookie year in the ABA: MVP, Rookie of the Year, 30 ppg, 19.5 rpg. Haywood had a powerful NBA career, too, playing with five teams. Haywood ran into some problems with drugs, a sort of pro basketball epidemic at the time, but the 6′ 8″ Mississippi-born Haywood beat his addiction in a nasty game of one-on-one that ended the way most did: with Haywood on top.