Smith found typical Negro athlete problems with the athletic department: "They don't care about the black athlete per se. They just want him to produce. Instead of trying to help us they want us to pass just enough to get by. They tried to put me into physical education, but I didn't want to be in it because I didn't enjoy it."
And, as always, the social life was limited. "I only had five or six dates my first year, and I felt like those girls just felt sorry for me. Me and my white teammates never did anything together. On campus all the white players would go to parties together, but I was never invited to go with them. They didn't care what I did. They just thought of me as a basketball player."
And so later that evening of his last home game, after hearing himself lauded and praised and appreciated—an evening that would have set up a white athlete for life—Smith was not particularly excited. His transition from promising rookie to nationally known star had not appreciably improved his off-court campus life. He reckoned, thinking back, that of all the white people he had met in that strange, flat land of Iowa, only two had been sincere. He still felt awkward around whites. He still did not trust them. He was proud of his education, and his exceptional basketball ability had earned him a contract with the Cincinnati Royals. But he would not recommend Iowa State as a place for a black athlete—at least a black athlete who wanted to be happy.
Elvin Hayes, as they like to say down in Houston, is something else. One night when the University of Houston basketball team was flying home from another successful appearance on the road, a newspaperman tried to get Hayes's attention. "Hey, boy!" the reporter called.
A silence came over the cabin of the plane. Players stopped what they were doing. Refreshments were poised in midair and conversations ceased. Elvin Hayes, the team's big wheelhorse, turned to the reporter and said softly: "Boy's on Tarzan. Boy plays on Tarzan. I'm no boy. I'm 22 years old. I worked hard to become a man. I don't call you boy."
"I'm sorry," the newspaperman said. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"I hope not," Hayes said softly, and returned to his conversation.
Elvin Hayes does not take part in boycotts; he does not make loud demands on the white athletic establishment; he does not proselytize younger Negro athletes to take up arms against the inequities that visit the Negro in sports. He respects the militant Negro athletes, but he has chosen a different path.
Hayes is eight inches over 6 feet tall, 240 pounds in weight, dark coffee in color. He is broad and thick in the nose and lips, and his eyes are set so wide apart that one often has the feeling of talking only to half of him. He wears a small mustache, like most Negro athletes, and his hair is cropped close to his skull. He has a bright, flashing smile, but he does not throw it around indiscriminately. The smile of Elvin Hayes does not appear the instant a white man says hello. It must be earned. But mostly Elvin is polite and taciturn, the quietest person in any gathering, and there is about him a massive dignity that comes only partly from his height. In a room full of Negroes and whites, he stands apart, a figure of total independence. No one will ever see Elvin Hayes chicken-walking across a stage prattling about the imminent arrival of the magistrate.
For three years Elvin Hayes was the hero of Houston, admired and respected by black and white alike. He was always the last Cougar to be introduced over the P.A. system before each home game, and by the time the second or third man had been introduced, the chant of "E...E...E" had become so loud that the other players could only be identified by their numbers. When Elvin would finally detach his long body from the bench, throw down the polka-dot towel that was a team trademark and amble out on the floor in his size 16s, the needles on the VI meters in the radio booth would veer across the red line.