MEXICO CITY — NBA Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood won’t get offended if you don’t remember his short tenure with the Jazz organization.
“Most people don’t,” Haywood laughed while reminding a Deseret News reporter on Friday.
In the midst of Haywood’s legendary NBA and ABA career, he played in 34 games for the New Orleans Jazz during the 1978-79 season. The Jazz acquired him from the New York Knicks midway through the year for Joe Meriweather. He averaged 24.0 points and 9.6 rebounds on 49.7 percent shooting, but the squad finished 26-56.
“That was awesome,” Haywood recalled. “It was just great because I was with one of my heroes Elgin Baylor who was the coach and playing with “Pistol Pete” Maravich and Gail Goodrich was one of my dreams. That was some pretty cool stuff.”
The franchise moved to Salt Lake City in June of 1979 and Haywood was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, for Adrian Dantley, for whom he won an NBA title.
“We had a nice run,” Haywood said. “And of course, the following year, they moved to Utah but it was special.”
This year, the Jazz are celebrating 40 seasons in Utah since the relocation from New Orleans and Haywood is currently in Mexico City where he watched the Jazz take on the Orlando Magic on Saturday. Haywood, 69, was invited by the league as one of the legends to witness the NBA Mexico City Games 2018. He also spoke at an ESPN-sponsored brunch on Dec. 13.
Although he never played in Utah, Haywood still likes to watch the current Jazz roster compete. He praises Rudy Gobert’s shot blocking ability and enjoyed a special evening with star guard Donovan Mitchell during the 2018 ESPY Awards in California.
“Donovan and I partied hard until late in the night at the ESPYs,” Haywood said. “We got a chance to talk and party and dance until well in the night.
“He’s just a wonderful young man and you know all of them are under the Spencer Haywood Rule because any player that left college before their four years are up, comes through me,” he continued, tapping his chest. “I take pride in that. A lot of pride.”
In addition to his legendary career, the University of Detroit Mercy product also changed the NBA’s eligibility rules after winning a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1971 that previously prohibited players from turning pro prior to waiting four years in college. Mitchell left the University of Louisville after his sophomore campaign, just as many others did after Haywood.
Contrary to popular belief, Haywood has also visited Salt Lake City quite often throughout the years. In 1978, he purchased a local Albertsons Grocery Store, which he is currently finalizing on a deal to sell now.
“I bought it in 1978 so I’m sort of like akin to Utah,” Haywood confirmed.
“I had to come through Utah a lot,” he added. “In fact, I’ve got to come back up for the closing in Salt Lake City hopefully in the next two weeks.”