By Ben Golliver
In a bizarre and heartbreaking reversal, Spencer Haywood, who thought he was informed earlier this week that had been elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's 2013 class, is once again on the outside looking in.
Haywood, 63, has been bypassed for selection for years, but the unusual circumstances over the last week surely makes this snubbing the worst of all.
On Friday, FoxSportsFlorida.com reported that Al Ross, Haywood's former agent, mistakenly confirmed that Haywood would be joining the 2013 class, which will be officially announced on Monday.
"They couldn't keep him out anymore,'' Ross said of Haywood finally entering the Hall of Fame. "He's really excited.''
Less than 24 hours later, the Seattle Times reported that Haywood, who was officially announced as a 2013 finalist at All-Star Weekend in Houston back in February, did not make the final cut needed to earn induction.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Haywood's version of events.
“I don’t know why there was confusion,” Haywood said Saturday from Atlanta, where he is attending the Final Four. “Someone from the NBA told me I was in, then I found out Friday night that I wasn’t in. This is so embarrassing. My stomach has been so bad I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. This isn’t a punch in the stomach. It’s below the stomach.”
The Hall of Fame’s official announcement comes Monday at the Final Four. The Hall — not the NBA — informs finalists beforehand if they received the required votes for induction.
“I don’t know how it was decided,” Ross said Saturday. “Spencer called me and told me that he was in. First he was in. Then he’s not in. It’s the most ludicrous, absurd thing I’ve ever seen.”
Haywood played 12 seasons in the NBA with the SuperSonics, Knicks, Jazz, Lakers and Bullets, holding career averages of 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds. A four-time NBA All-Star and two-time All-NBA first-team selection, Haywood was a member of the 1980 title-winning Lakers and the gold medal-winning 1968 Olympic team and he had his No. 24 jersey retired by the Sonics.
In 1970, Haywood filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA's rule that players needed to spend four years in college before entering the league. USA Today reported the details of the lawsuit in 2009.
He left the University of Detroit after his sophomore year to join the Denver Rockets of the ABA in 1969-70. Then he signed with the NBA's Seattle Supersonics in violation of an NBA rule that said players must be four years out of high school to be eligible. And when the NBA cried foul, Haywood took the league to court. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1971. He'd like to be remembered as the patron saint of early entrants, paving the way for Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to leave college early for the NBA — and for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to leapfrog college into the league.
Earlier this week, Haywood told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he felt that his legal challenge had been a factor in keeping him out of the Hall of Fame over the years.
“I’m still suffering,” said Haywood, who lives in Las Vegas and owns a construction business. “If you look at all the things I did on the court, I would have been in a long time ago. But the (Supreme) court fight is the reason I’m not in. But I believe this is going to be my time.”
“I’m still a pariah,” Haywood said. “I’ll be around Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo (Anthony) at USA Basketball camp and they won’t talk to me. What they don’t know, or want to know, is without me, there’s no them. But they’re in denial.”
While this serves as an excellent case study for why early leaks of official announcements can be a less preferable path than remaining patient, Haywood's excitement at his (assumed) election is totally understandable given the history involved and the quality of his résumé. This saga raises all sorts of questions, and there was clearly a communication breakdown at some point along the way.
At the very least, the NBA and the Hall of Fame owe public statements as to their understanding of this week's events. Did anyone from either organization contact Haywood? If so, could that communication have been interpreted in any way as an induction invitation? If the answers to those questions are "yes," to any degree, one or both organizations owe Haywood an apology, at the very least. If not, everyone involved will surely try to forget the events of the past week as quickly as possible, however difficult that might prove to be. A number of 2013 class inductees leaked in advance of 2013's ceremony. According to multiple reports, Gary Payton will be enshrined this September. Bernard King will reportedly also earn induction.