This book is dedicated to those who helped shape sports and society: Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Henry Aaron, Spencer Haywood, Curt Flood and Marvin Miller, who fought for freedom and fairness.
Youths take to the courts
"I want to thank Spencer Haywood…for leading the way. Without Spencer Haywood there would be no Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone or myself." —Kevin Garnett, after being named 2003-04 NBA MVP
In addition to suppressing wages though the reserve clause, owners united to control the minimum age at which players could enter their leagues. That way, the NBA and NFL could take advantage of a free farm system—college sports—without fear of any team undercutting the system by drafting a player below the minimum age.
Spencer Haywood left the University of Detroit in 1969 after two seasons. At the time, the NBA had a strict policy against drafting or signing a player until he was four years out of high school. Haywood played one season for the Denver Rockets of the ABA, was named MVP, then was signed by the Seattle SuperSonics. The NBA sued Haywood and Sonics owner Sam Schulman to keep Haywood out of the league.
At his first NBA game, lawyers served Haywood with an injunction ordering him to leave the arena. The public-address announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an illegal player on the floor.” Haywood endured racial slurs from fans. Even other NBA players turned their backs on him, thinking that by entering the league too young he had not played by the rules.
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that because Haywood was the only wage earner capable of taking care of his family, and therefore a “hardship case,” he should be permitted to earn a living in the NBA.
Haywood’s case paved the way for young players to declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft, even right out of high school (until 2006).