MAY 8, 1978
Elvin Hayes made news during the NBA All-Star weekend in February, not just because he was among those honored as one of the 50 greatest players in league history but also for his pointed remarks about Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers' flamboyant rookie point guard. "Iverson plays like a runaway train," Hayes said. "The bottom line is what your team does, and his team is not doing anything. If he doesn't show respect for the top players, then maybe he should read up on them. His head is in the wrong place."
Hayes's words no doubt arched the eyebrows of many longtime NBA followers who can recall a time when similar criticism was directed at a talented but petulant young power forward named Elvin Hayes. Like Iverson, the Big E was the top pick in the NBA draft, in 1968, and during his first few years in the league his reputation as a bad actor was matched only by his reputation for folding in the clutch. Alex Hannum, one of Hayes's coaches with the San Diego Rockets, once described Hayes as "the most despicable person I've ever met in sports," and when Hayes was traded to the Baltimore Bullets in '72, Baltimore coach Gene Shue joked that Hayes's psychiatrist was part of the deal. But Hayes matured as a player and a person during his 16-year career and eventually fulfilled the promise he had shown as a three-time All-America at Houston. Hayes led the Bullets (by then the Washington Bullets) to the '78 NBA championship. He is fourth on the NBA's alltime list in scoring, fourth in rebounding and second in minutes played. "When I left basketball, I was much more humble than when I first came," says Hayes.
Following his retirement in 1984, Hayes returned to Houston to complete his degree in speech communication. After spending a year as a special assistant athletic director at the school, he began dabbling in the used-car business. Today Hayes, 51, who grew up in the segregated, cotton-mill town of Rayville, La., owns two new-car dealerships in Houston and sits on the board of directors of the local chapter of the American Red Cross Association. "I always liked cars, so I'm still doing something I love," says Hayes, who lives with Erna, his wife of 30 years and the mother of his four children, Elvin Jr., Ethan, Elisse and Erica. "A lot of people who saw me play come by and talk about basketball and say, 'I enjoyed watching you.' It's not like dunking in the Capital Centre and having everybody holler 'Eeeee!' but it ain't far off."