Being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame allows for career reflection. From the moment the all-time greats get that Hall of Fame call, they spend the next several months discussing their playing days, the teams, their teammates, the special moments.
For Spencer Haywood, there was much to reflect on, and in some ways much to regret.
Haywood fought an NBA system 45 years ago that did not allow players to enter the league as hardship cases, and he created the path for future players to declare for the draft with college eligibility remaining. That alone is worthy of his Hall of Fame election.
Haywood was one of the league’s great players during the 1970s, but he harped on one of his biggest regrets, when he was acquired by the Lakers from the Jazz for Adrian Dantley in September 1979.
The Lakers had just drafted a point guard named Magic Johnson, and they wanted to move the ball-dominant Dantley to allow Johnson to run the offense. Haywood was acquired as a valuable reserve, and he played 76 games that season.
Plagued by cocaine addiction, Haywood played just two games in the 1980 NBA Finals against the 76ers before being sent home by coach Paul Westhead after falling asleep at practice. Haywood played in Italy the next season before resurrecting his NBA career by playing two seasons with the Washington Bullets.
Despite his troubles, Haywood was part of that Lakers 1979-80 title team. But his memories aren’t fond.
“It changed my life because I had played all of those years to get to that position to be with a great point guard like Magic and my longtime friend Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar],” Haywood said. “We had Jamaal Wilkes as a small forward, Norm Nixon as a guard, and we had [swingman] Michael Cooper, and I kind of blew it.
“That was a horrible thing because that’s the only time I shot myself in the foot. I look at it and I think about my life and people say, ‘You don’t have regrets.’ And I have that one regret. That I didn’t stay clean and sober that year. That was my one regret.”
Haywood was hardly the lone NBA player in the late 1970s with a drug problem. The league was loaded with players who were dealing with substance-abuse issues, damaging its reputation. What’s more, the league’s playoff games were telecast on tape delay. The arrival of Johnson and Larry Bird helped save the NBA.
“We were at a crisis point in the NBA,” Haywood said. “And hey, I fell into the trap and it helped me tremendously to be the one out front because I was suspended for three games. I had to be exiled to Italy. It was something that God wanted me to do because I had to get clean and sober for my life.”
Haywood said he enjoyed his time playing with Carrera di Venezia.
“The Italian people loved me up and they gave me joy,” he said. “I came back to the NBA and finished out my career [in Washington]. It was a hard time but it was something that I had to go through, and I think I’ve been able to help other people because I have told this story for 30 years. And I’m blessed to be clean and sober for 30 years.”
What stood out for Haywood during his season with the Lakers was Johnson, who at age 20 led them to the title with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists in the clinching Game 6 against the 76ers.
“In training camp, and we were seasoned guys, Magic was like, ‘Come on guys, let’s go,’ ” Haywood said. “And we were like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ And so by the end of training camp we were the guys who were saying, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ ”
One of the more memorable moments from Johnson’s rookie season was the opening game in San Diego against the Clippers. Abdul-Jabbar swished a sky hook to win the game at the buzzer. Johnson grabbed the veteran center with a bear hug to spark a raucous celebration. It was an unusual scene for a regular-season win.
“We’re old dudes, we’re not supposed to enjoy this game like that,” Haywood said. “So he brought something very special to the game. That smile, that energy. That’s why I regret [that season] because he could fit that ball in places with me where I ran real strong, so it was just so easy for me. It’s not like I had to work [to get the ball]. This was some easy stuff because I’ve got this brother here [Johnson].
“Kareem and I were talking after [the Clippers] game and saying, ‘Man, this is going to be the easiest year of your career.’ But I shot myself in the foot.”
REST IN PEACE
Malone’s death stirs memories
The stunning and sudden death of legendary Moses Malone has brought even more appreciation for his incredible career and life. Malone scored 29,580 points in the NBA and American Basketball Association, and he led the NBA in rebounding six times.
Malone, who was the first player to join professional basketball directly from high school, in 1974, revolutionized the game because of his passion for rebounding. There was a Nike commercial decades ago that showed Malone’s offseason workout program and it was relentless.
He would place a barrier over the basket, so that every shot would miss. Malone would spend sweltering summer afternoons chasing down those balls, practicing his rebounding.
Malone played until he was 39 and was a starter until he was 36. Malone set the course for the next generation of high school players such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, who have enjoyed long careers. Yet, it was even more astounding that Malone — playing in an age in which players often played injured or had their careers shortened by untreated injuries or ailments without today’s medical technology — played at least 71 games in 16 of 21 seasons. And he averaged an unbelievable 17.6 rebounds in 1978-79 for the Houston Rockets.
What’s more, Malone grabbed 401 more rebounds that season than the second-leading rebounder, Chicago’s Artis Gilmore. Malone attended the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame ceremony on Sept. 11, two days before his death, wearing his customary derby and hanging out with former Rockets teammate Calvin Murphy.
The NBA has dealt with a series of untimely deaths the past year with Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Jack Haley, Anthony Mason, Jerome Kersey, and skilled but troubled Roy Tarpley. All were 60 or younger.
It’s sad that Malone’s accomplishments and his impact have been somewhat overlooked over the years, but he will be remembered as one of the league’s more dominant and menacing players, an all-time great rebounder, and the primary reason the 76ers were able to overtake the Celtics and win the NBA championship in 1983. And in this writer’s opinion, that 1982-83 76ers team was one of the greatest of all time. Farewell, Moses.
LINES OF COMMUNICATION
Owners, players prepare for talks
The NBA is preparing for the dramatic salary cap increase that could change the complexion of the league and how its owners handle finances. Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said she hopes the league and players can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement in the coming months.
The players can opt out of the current 10-year pact in 2017, but the NBPA would rather have a new collective bargaining agreement in place before opting out. Roberts told the Globe in June that the sides would begin negotiating in August.
“Since the day Michele took the job, we’ve been talking on a regular basis,” commissioner Adam Silver told the Globe. “I think we’ve both been clear that our jobs are to bring stability to the league and to continue and build on the success we’ve had. We’re looking forward to engaging with the union. We have a labor relations committee formed. She has her executive committee. We hope to get together this fall and continue the discussions we’ve been having on a staff level.”
Meanwhile, the league adjusted the playoff seedings so that teams with the top eight records are paired accordingly, regardless of regular-season finish in their divisions. The fact the Clippers and Spurs met in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season despite both having better records than the Northwest Division champion Trail Blazers sparked the change.
“I don’t know if it was a long time coming,” Silver said. “It’s a changing nature of sports and media, and what we’re seeing is that while there’s still local and regional rivalries, increasingly we still have national and global teams and national and global players. I think it was a case where it was changing with the times.”
The Blazers were seeded fourth because of their division title but did not have home-court advantage in their first-round series against Memphis because the Grizzlies owned a better record. That caused even more confusion before this change.
“It’s something we talked about over the years and ultimately we concluded that seeding one through eight made most sense for the playoffs,” Silver said. “I also think there was some fan confusion as well, especially with the fact that you win your division and get a particular seeding but yet you wouldn’t have the home-court advantage [because] the team you were playing had a better record. It was so unbalanced, we decided that, and the owners were ultimately unanimous in making the change.”
Also, Silver said the league will maintain its current draft lottery system indefinitely.
“There’s a recognition that the lottery is only one aspect of how to build a team,” Silver said. “And given the inflow of the new television money next season and the large increase in the cap, ultimately the owners concluded that while we think we need to take a fresh look at the lottery system, let’s wait and look at the system holistically once the new money comes in.
“Because there’s always unintended consequences and at least everyone understands the rules of the road right now. I think we need to be deliberate about any changes we make, so we’ll turn back to it, but we’re going to leave things as is for now.”
Asked when the lottery system would be revisited, Silver said: “It will be a couple of years. We will have this very significant increase in the cap next year and I think we’ll have a sense then of how our teams react and what sort player movement we see.”
Celtics, Lakers, Knicks on the rise
It appears that three of the league’s benchmark franchises — the Celtics, Lakers, and Knicks — are finally headed in the right direction after painful rebuilding periods.
The Celtics are the most advanced, having reached the playoffs a year after landing in the draft lottery for the first time in six years. The Lakers nabbed Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell the past two drafts to join promising guard Jordan Clarkson and a healthy Kobe Bryant.
The Knicks, led by team president Phil Jackson, signed Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, and Kyle O’Quinn, along with drafting intriguing European prospect Kristaps Porzingis to join a healthy Carmelo Anthony.
Commissioner Adam Silver was asked whether the league is stronger when those three teams are competitive.
“What we’re seeing now in the NBA is that, regardless of market size, that with a well-managed organization and a bit of luck you can compete for championships in this league,” he said. “We’re moving toward the point where every franchise is significant. I don’t place the importance of any particular franchise over any other. So while we want to see every team compete, we recognize there’s an ebb and flow in every market. So I’m very satisfied with the league right now and enjoy watching the building process that teams go through.”
There are only two notable NBA players who will be first-year eligible for the Hall of Fame next season: Michael Finley (who played briefly with the Celtics) and Allen Iverson. Iverson’s last NBA game was in 2010 but he did play for Besitkas in Turkey for 10 games in 2011. Hall of Fame officials said that period will be waived, meaning Iverson could be the marquee inductee in next year’s class . . . The Golden State Warriors have yet to waive former Celtic Chris Babb, who was acquired in the Gerald Wallace deal, and they plan to invite the swingman to training camp for an opportunity to make the team. The Celtics liked Babb’s effort and he also played a key role for their NBADL team in Maine. The Warriors also have an NBADL affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif. . . . It looks as if the Tristan Thompson contract situation could spill into training camp as the Cavaliers have yet to sign the power forward to a long-term extension. Thompson, who did not play for Team Canada in the FIBA Americas Championship because of his lack of a contract, could agree to a one-year deal that would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. That would increase the risk of the Cavaliers losing their valuable rebounder next summer when the salary cap increases. The Cavaliers held a team workout recently, organized by LeBron James, but Thompson did not attend . . . Kelly Olynyk will report to Celtics training camp with momentum after scoring a game-high 34 points in Team Canada’s loss to Venezuela in the FIBA Americas semifinals. Olynyk had been inconsistent before that game but looked like the best player on the floor that night. Canada did not qualify for the Olympics, and now will have to participate in a pre-Olympic tournament to earn a bid for Rio de Janeiro 2016 . . . A throng of former Kentucky, UMass, and Memphis players attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies in support of coach John Calipari, who was inducted on Sept. 11. Among those in attendance was Celtics swingman James Young, who sat in the balcony next to close buddy and Sacramento Kings rookie Willie Cauley-Stein . . . The Milwaukee Bucks have officially gone big time with their television play-by-play and analyst team, signing the popular Gus Johnson along with former Buck Marques Johnson to call 55 games this season. Marques Johnson played seven seasons (1977-84) with the Bucks, scored 10,980 points, made four All-Star appearances, and had five seasons averaging 20 or more points. There has been a campaign for the Bucks to retire his jersey No. 8.