Spencer Haywood was born April 22, 1949, and attended Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado, during the 1967-68 college season, where he averaged 28.2 points and 22.1 rebounds per game. Due to his exceptional performance and talent, Haywood made the USA Olympic Basketball team in 1968. Haywood was the leading scorer on the USA's gold medal winning basketball team during the 1968 Olympics at 16.1 points per game, and he set a USA field goal percentage record of .719.

Haywood transferred to the University of Detroit in the fall of that year, and led the NCAA in rebounding with a 21.5 average per game while scoring 32.1 points per game during the 1968-69 season. He decided to turn pro after his sophomore year, but National Basketball Association (NBA) rules, which then required a player to wait until his class graduated, prohibited him from entering the league. As a result, he joined the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association (ABA).

In 1970, despite the NBA's eligibility rules, Haywood joined the Seattle SuperSonics, and with SuperSonics owner Sam Schulman launched an anti-trust suit against the league (Haywood v. National Basketball Association). The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the NBA agreed to a settlement.

Haywood was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1972 and 1973 and the All-NBA Second Team in 1974 and 1975. Haywood's 29.2 points per game in the 1972–73 season and 13.4 rebounds per game in 1973–74 are still the single-season record averages for the SuperSonics for these categories. Haywood played in four NBA All-Star Games while with Seattle, including a strong 23 point 11 rebound performance in 1974. In the 1974–75 season, he helped lead the SuperSonics to their first playoff berth. Overall, during his five seasons with Seattle, Haywood averaged 24.9 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game.

In 1975, the SuperSonics traded him to the New York Knicks where he later teamed with Bob McAdoo. Haywood later played for the New Orleans Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, and Washington Bullets.

The next season Haywood played in Italy for Reyer Venezia Mestre (then under the name "Carrera di Venezia") along with Dražen Dalipagić before returning to the NBA to play two seasons with the Washington Bullets.

Haywood's no. 24 jersey was retired by the SuperSonics during a halftime ceremony on February 26, 2007.

On April 6, 2015 it was announced that Haywood would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of its 11-member 2015 class.

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