SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Spencer Haywood began his remarks with a nod to his teammate on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal he said was no sure thing after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld declined to play.
“We shook up the world in 1968,” Haywood, who led the Americans in scoring, said to Jo Jo White.
Haywood was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame tonight along with White, Dikembe Mutombo, Louie Dampier, John Isaacs, Lindsay Gaze, Tommy Heinsohn, George Raveling, Dick Bavetta, John Calipari and Lisa Leslie.
Haywood was the youngster who led Detroit Pershing to the first state title for a Detroit public school in 37 years when the Doughboys won the 1967 Class A crown.
But to college and NBA basketball fans across the country and around the world, Haywood is the man who changed the game by challenging the rule that forced players to remain in college for four years before turning pro.
Haywood, 66, left the University of Detroit after his sophomore year and signed with the Denver Rockets of the ABA before signing with Seattle of the NBA the following year, which is when his legal battle began. It didn’t end until the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
For some, the trip to Springfield was a reminder of their early days. Calipari recalled making $63,000 a year in the late 1980s as coach at the nearby University of Massachusetts and nearly got choked up talking about Marcus Camby, the superstar on his first Final Four team long before he started coaching them regularly at Kentucky.
Bavetta thought back to his days calling games in the Eastern League before never missing an assignment during 39 years as an NBA referee.
For Mutombo, it was a chance to think about how far he’d come — from Africa to Georgetown to 18 seasons in the NBA, where he followed many of his blocked shots by wagging his index finger.
Mutombo said former commissioner David Stern long pleaded with him to stop and eventually compromised by telling Mutombo to wave the finger toward the crowd instead of the player he just rejected. Now working for the league as a global ambassador, Mutombo joked that he took the job to recover some of the money he lost in fines over the years.
He said Blake Griffin is the player he now wished would try to dunk on him, but he’ll settle for blocking anyone in his path, as some youths in China recently learned.
“It was a pick-up, a clinic, and I killed all of them,” Mutombo said. “No kids could score against me.”
Mutombo might miss the work but Bavetta is happy to be staying home after calling 2,635 consecutive NBA regular-season games before retiring in 2014 at 74.
“I used to put the Weather Channel on, I’d see the blizzards in Minnesota and Detroit and Cleveland and Boston, and not worry about, ‘How am I going to get there?’” Bavetta said. “So it was a revelation this year, because the travel was a killer.”
The inductees seemed happiest for White, who endured a lengthy wait and serious health problems before finally getting his call.