Former NBA star Haywood’s number to be retired Friday

The jersey of legendary Titan big man and NBA icon Spencer Haywood will be retired this Friday, Jan. 29, before Detroit (9-10, 3-5 in the Horizon League) squares off against Northern Kentucky (7-12, 3-5) at 7 p.m.

“I think it’s long overdue,” said current Titans basketball head coach Ray McCallum. “The recognition and retiring of his number is something that should’ve been done a long time ago.”

This will be the first jersey retirement ceremony at UDM since Rashad Phillips’ #3 was raised to the rafters in 2010.

“I think it’s something that you never get used to because it’s such a monumental place (Calihan Hall) for your jersey to be immortalized in a Division I institution,” said Phillips on seeing his number in the rafters.  

“When they put your jersey up in a school, that means it stays there forever; that’s one of the few things etched in stone. That jersey is going to out live me. When I see that (jersey), I think ahead 100 years from now when I have great-great-great grandchildren. That #3 will still be there. Even though I won’t be here physically, the number and that jersey will still hang in the rafters of Calihan Hall.”

On Friday, Haywood’s #44 will be the latest to be forever immortalized.

Before transferring to what was then U of D, Haywood attended Trinidad State Junior College. Thanks to his outstanding play, he was invited to play on USA National Basketball Team for the 1968 Olympics.

“His story is unbelievable. He goes to Trinidad Junior College and then he’s an Olympian and leads the Olympic team to a gold medal (while leading the team) in rebounding and scoring,” said McCallum. “It’s just unbelievable for what a 19-year-old can accomplish.”

A few short months later, Haywood averaged 32.1 points and 22.1 rebounds per game during his first and only season in a Titan uniform. Haywood was so dominant at the collegiate level that he even broke a backboard on a dunk at Calihan Hall during a U of D blowout victory.

Following the season, he was named a consensus first-team All-American.

Although it lasted only a single season, Haywood’s time at U of D would have ramifications throughout the sport of basketball for decades.

“It was one of the most impactful one-year careers that college basketball has ever witnessed,” said Phillips.

Clearly ready for basketball at the pro level, Haywood aimed to forgo his remaining years of college eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.

However, a rule prevented any player from playing in the NBA until four years after high school graduation.

Eager to play professionally, Haywood signed a contract in the now-defunct ABA (American Basketball Association) with the Denver Rockets.

In the 1969-70 season, Haywood took the ABA by storm, as he averaged 30 points and 19.5 rebounds per contest. He was named ABA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

Even off the heels of his success, Haywood was still destined to play in the NBA. In 1970, Haywood ignored the NBA’s rules for eligibility and signed six-year, $1.5 million contract with the Seattle Supersonics.

Threatened with punishment from the league, Haywood and Sonics owner Sam Schulman filed an anti-trust suit against the NBA that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A lot of people don’t know his (Haywood’s) history,” said Phillips. “He was the first person to leave school early and challenge the Supreme Court. So when you look at all these kids that are leaving school early in today’s game – all these Kentucky kids and Duke kids – they don’t know that there was a guy named Spencer Haywood that challenged the Supreme Court to make that happen.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Haywood and Schulman. The NBA eventually settled out of court and allowed Haywood to join the Supersonics for the 1970-71 season.

Ironically, the court case, Haywood v. National Basketball Association, has allowed today’s NBA to grow in marketability through the constant influx of young, raw talent.

Haywood went on to have a storied NBA career, playing for the Sonics, New York Knicks, New Orleans Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Bullets.

By the end of his playing days, he had earned four All-Star team selections, two first-team All-NBA awards and an NBA championship in 1980 with the Lakers.

“As a youngster, I remember him as a player (in the NBA),” said McCallum. “He had a great turnaround fade-away jump shot. He had huge hands where he could just pick the ball up and dunk over people.”

After winning a ring, Haywood played overseas for a season for the Italian club Reyer Venezia Mestre. He returned to the states the following year and finished his career with the Washington Bullets.

Haywood retired in 1983 with career averages of 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

In April 2015, Haywood was voted into the NBA’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.