Spencer Haywood – Basketball’s Pioneer
Spencer has the distinction of being the first college basketball player to come out of college early – prior to graduation to sign a professional contract. Haywood attended Trinidad Jr. College for a year in southern Colorado. He then became the high scorer for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1968 before transferring to The University of Detroit.
He entered the professional draft, but NBA rules prevented him from being drafted early. And so he entered the ABA in 1969 as a member of the Denver Rockets. Haywood lead the ABA in scoring and rebounding and was named Rookie of the Year after leading the Rockets to a Western Division Title. The Rockets advanced to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the L.A. Stars.
Spencer was also selected as MVP in the 1970 ABA All-Star Game. He jumped to the NBA in 1970 joining the Seattle Super Sonics. A legal battle ensued landing in the Supreme Court – and finally being settled in his favor. Haywood went on to appear in several NBA All Star Games. Sadly, his career was cut short by drug addiction.
However, Haywood’s journey opened the door for all future players to sign professional contracts before or during college.
The Next Pioneer – Ralph Simpson
Ironically, Haywood’s high school teammate in Detroit, Ralph Simpson, also broke out of college early also joining the Denver Rockets and becoming the second player to do so coming out of Michigan State college after two years. He remained with the Rockets until they merged with the NBA at which time he joined his home town Detroit Pistons.
Simpson would return to Denver as a Nugget a few years later but his production fell off dramatically. He played for a short time with the Philadelphia 76ers and finally the New Jersey Nets before retiring in 1980.
I met Ralph Simpson in the 1990’s at a nearby neighborhood basketball gym in Aurora, Colorado. He was raising a family and had settled down in the Denver area. I asked him if he would care to play on my men’s basketball team and he agreed to do so – giving me his phone number – but shortly after he was offered a high-school coaching position and so my team’s chance to have a Denver Nugget top ten all time scorer vanished.
33 1/3 Single – NBA – “Play It Pro” – “Defensive Rebounding” and “Offensive Rebounding” – 1976