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National Treasure: The Spencer Haywood Story

By 03.20.12
Spencer Haywood

Spencer Haywood (photo. Spencer Haywood)

Dime: How did the drug addiction impact you?
SH: It was on the court and off the court. Man, addiction is a mother. And I was dealing with the most insidious drug – cocaine – so that was a tough journey. But I never regret anything I went through. Whatever I had to go through at the time, it’s allowed me to help so many people by telling my story. Whatever was put on me, was by me. I made the choices. No one else did.

Those were some pretty scary times. They affected me, my marriage, my kids. I hurt a lot of people. I hurt my teammates. We might laugh and joke about it now, but it was real. I saw Magic Johnson not too long ago and he said, “Man, I hated you and that shit.”

But shit happens, man. And that’s what I try to warn these young guys about. It doesn’t have to be drugs or alcohol. It can be a sex addiction. It can be anything. Today, you can get hooked on your computer.

Dime: Put together the starting five of players you played with.
SH: Well, the center would be Kareem. Point guard would be Magic. Off-guard would be Walt Frazier. One forward would be me, of course. And the small forward, I’m gonna tell you, is a guy not enough people talk about – Jamaal Wilkes. Man, he was a sweet player.

Dime: What was the best team you ever played on?
SH: The 1980 Lakers. There was none better. You see four of the guys I just named were on that team. That was the best level of basketball, man. The NBA had been in a drought with drug addiction – it just wasn’t right. Then we get this guy coming in, and like Jay-Z said, hitting licks at a fast pace. When Magic came in, it was like, “Oh shit, we gotta go out there and polish our shoes again.” His enthusiasm, his cheerfulness for the game, whooo…

Dime: I feel like Kareem is underrated. He doesn’t get talked about as much as Jordan or Chamberlain or Russell when people talk about the greatest player of all time. What do you think?
SH: Kareem brought it all. Rebounding, shot-blocking … the sky hook was unstoppable, but he had a jump shot, he had left-handed hooks, he had the size. Think about it: Three years of high school he was a champion, three years of college he was a champion, then he won six championships in the NBA. Leading scorer of all time. You can’t say he had just that one hook.

And if a player in today’s game had just one move that no one could stop, they should use it all the time. If LeBron would go to Kareem and say, “Teach me that sky hook,” he could be that guy. Or one of these big guys, like Dwight Howard. Kobe has his patented stuff that he can go to and he’ll hurt you for years. So that’s a word of advice to any young player. I tell my youngest daughters, too: Get yourself two or three moves that you can master, and work hard on them.

Dime: You came into the league with Seattle and had your highest production with the Sonics. What are your thoughts on Seattle losing the team?
SH: Horrible. It’s horrible. They had my jersey retirement – they waited all that time and finally put my jersey in the rafters – and then they moved. Weirdest shit I’ve ever seen. The Sonics are the team that went to the Supreme Court and helped make it possible for everybody to enter the league early. They should be stamped as a national treasure. They should never be able to move that team. But the coffee man sold out to the oil man, and he took ’em to Oklahoma. There are two places that need to have an NBA team as soon as possible: Seattle and Las Vegas.

Dime: I know you’ve got a vested interest in Vegas, but you know why people are anti-Vegas when it comes to pro sports.
SH: And that’s the hypocrisy. People can gamble online from anywhere. Look at the gambling they do in Atlantic City; that hasn’t hurt the New Jersey Nets. They have casinos in New Orleans; that hasn’t hurt the Hornets. Look at the Sacramento Kings; they’re owned by people who own The Palms casino. Everywhere you go, they have casinos. Everybody bets. When you watch games on television, what do you think people are doing? Gambling. Shit, we used to bet on who would be the eighth man walking off the bus. (laughs) At least in Vegas it’s a controlled environment. Vegas has The Strip, but it also has a million and a half people who don’t live on The Strip, who live in communities. It’s a real cultural place. It’s not all it’s painted as.

We have the NBA Summer League here. We have USA Basketball here. Everything is happening here. They’ve developed a fan base here that cares about basketball because they don’t have any pro sports here. And for NBA players, they wouldn’t have to pay state taxes, so you know they would love having a team here. Vegas would build an arena quickly. Are you crazy? The two places that would build an arena at the snap of a finger are Seattle and Las Vegas.

Dime: Have you ever wanted to coach?
SH: I’ve always enjoyed the idea of coaching and broadcasting, but hell … I’m the guy who broke all the rules. I’m not gonna get that job. When you take a stand as a revolutionary, there’s a price you gotta pay for the rest of your life, unfortunately. But it’s like the President: It’s an honor I wear proudly. Someone had to sacrifice. I’m it.

Does Haywood get the credit he deserves?

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