Spencer Haywood has always been a battler. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer was always in the middle of things on the basketball court and in one instance, in a court of law, as he helped change the rules for free agency in the NBA. Haywood eventually made it to New York with the Knicks, and although he is best remembered for his time in Seattle, he helped once again light up Broadway for basketball at a time when the lights had gotten a bit dim after two championships.
Today Spencer is as outspoken as ever, but more importantly he is a healthy prostate cancer survivor reaching the gospel if prevention and cure for the disease with young athletes. This week, he, along with the NBA Retired Players Association, joined with Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) to raise awareness of early detection screening, diagnosis and treatment options among alumni players, fans, and men across the country. Through this partnership, NBRPA members will have access to any of CTCA’s five hospitals (Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tulsa, and Phoenix), should they require these services.
We caught up with Spencer to talk about the Knicks, talking to young players, the state of the NBA and the goings-on around Seattle basketball.
NY Sports Day: What do you tell younger athletes these days about prevention and treatment of potential illnesses like prostate cancer?
Spencer Haywood: Don’t think it can’t happen to you—it can. You eat right, exercise right and live healthy but if your genetics say you are going to get cancer, it’s something you can’t prevent. It’s important to see your doctors regularly and get tested. The worst thing anyone with cancer can do is live in denial. This is a disease you deal with head on, aggressively, just like we played on the court.
NYSD: How far as the NBA advanced in the treatment and prevention of injury from your days as a player, and what else should be done?
SH: Healthcare in general is light years away from where it was when we played. My prostate cancer surgery was minimally invasive and done by robot; the future has arrived! Knee injuries in my day often ended careers; at best you came back as a shadow of your former self. Today many knee injuries can be fixed by ‘scope and guys are back on the court in a few weeks. Major knee injuries can be fixed by a ‘scope, might knock you out for a season, but surgeries have advanced to the point where guys come back from these things without losing a step or any explosiveness.
NYSD: You have been a great ambassador for the sport; do you enjoy the way the game is played today?
SH: I love the way the game is being played today. LeBron. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant when he’s healthy—these are special players that work hard and do things the right way. This is a special era of basketball in the NBA and I’m happy to remain part of the game where I get to know these guys and share my stories with a young generation.
NYSD: Your being one of the first marquee free agents in the NBA, what do you think of all the recent developments with the system?
SH: I went through a lot to open doors for young players entering the league with my court case. I was booed. I was an outcast. When we played in visiting arenas, they wouldn’t even announce my name. But I knew I was fighting for what was right and in the end we created the opportunity for a young man to take care of his family; for me to get my mother out of the cotton fields. This is a players league and free agency is another important right players fought or to put themselves and their families in the best situation possible. Today we couldn’t image the game without these important players’ rights.
NYSD: What are your thoughts on the Knicks?
SH: The Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports; Manhattan, The Garden—wow! There is no arena in sports like MSG and the renovations I saw during The All-Star game remained true to the history of the building. Knicks fans are some of the best in the game and there is a buzz in the arena with all the stars and celebrities on the floor—that used to be me back in the day! I love New York. Phil Jackson is going to get the Knicks pointed in the right direction—he has two rings as a player, 11 as a coach, that doesn’t happen by accident. I’m excited for Knicks fans!
NYSD: There has been talk of Seattle getting a team, perhaps Milwaukee moving now. Is Seattle ready to welcome back the NBA and is such a movement good for the league?
SH: I don’t want any city to lose their team—that’s a painful thing. It hurt me when the Sonics left Seattle and I wouldn’t want any city to go through that. Seattle’s a basketball town and the city needs The SuperSonics. So many helped build basketball in Seattle—Lenny Wilkens, Slick Watts, Gus Johnson, Jack Sikma, Dale Ellis, Michael Cage, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Ricky Pierce, Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers—I don’t want to miss anyone. How about the coaches I played for? Lenny and Bill Russell—man! George Karl also had a great run there. The Sonics were Seattle’s original sports team and the city won’t be right until they are back.