Admittedly, there are some good things to say about the Denver Rockets' signing of Spencer Haywood, even though he was pulled out of the University of Detroit at the end of his sophomore year. There is the money, a reported $250,000 on a long-term contract, and that is vitally important to a 20-year-old black kid said to be the main support of his mother and nine brothers and sisters. And, of course, college for Haywood was primarily (and understandably) a place to further his basketball career. The Denver contract was thus a most logical and welcome step for him.
As for Denver, it picks up both national publicity and another potential superstar—things the Rockets and the beleaguered ABA can use. The ABA seemed all but dead when Lew Alcindor decided to sign with the NBA but it has been fighting back. Now, with discussions continuing about merger with the NBA, it appears stronger than ever.
Yet the unavoidable fact remains: in defiance of rules and traditions (and completely ignoring the established draft system), a pro basketball team has signed a man in the middle of his college career. Denver argues that Haywood is an exception because he was a "hardship" case. But will that explanation prevent other teams from scrambling onto campuses after other undergraduate prospects? And if they do, what can possibly result except all-out war between the pros and the colleges, with its bitterness, acrimony and chaos? Denver has done well by Spencer Haywood, but it has done the game of basketball a grave disservice.
WILT, HANDS DOWN
As for Haywood's elders, Lew Alcindor, whose presence on the roster has really boosted the Milwaukee Bucks' preseason ticket sales ("Our average attendance last year was 6,246," says Publicity Man Jim Foley, "and I'd say that would be a poor crowd this year"), made his debut against Wilt Chamberlain recently in the 11th Annual Maurice Stokes Benefit Game, played at Monticello, N.Y. in the Catskill Mountains. Alcindor performed creditably, scoring 14 points as his team won 80-79, but he was distinctly outplayed by weary old Wilt, who taught him an abrupt lesson on the very first play. Chamberlain wheeled around Alcindor, easily stuffed the ball and in propelling it downward banged it off Lew's hand, which at that point was sticking up through the bottom of the basket. Oscar Robertson, another old pro, said, "Lew will have to watch out for Wilt. He could break his hand that way."
WHAT WOULD AVERY SAY?
Al Franken, the West Coast publicity man who puts on the Los Angeles Invitational Indoor Track Meet each January, has taken a hint from golf and is advertising for a sponsor. Franken says if he can find a company willing to put up the dough in exchange for the publicity value, he'd be happy to change the name of his meet to the Pepsi Games, the Budweiser Games, the Gatorade Games or whatever. It might work, especially if Franken is lucky enough to sign up Olympia beer.
TOUGHER LEAGUE THIS YEAR
A year ago Memphis State played its first season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. A conference team is required to play at least five conference games to be eligible for the championship, but because of previous commitments Memphis State was able to schedule only four conference schools. No sweat, said the other conference members amiably. We'll count your game with—oh, let's see—with Southern Mississippi as the required fifth game. So Memphis State won all four of its conference games, knocked off Southern Mississippi, too, and won the MVC title in its first attempt.
This season Memphis State again has only four conference games on its schedule, and again the other teams have agreed to let one nonleague contest count. But this time they bypassed Southern Mississippi, which was 4-6 last year, and instead have designated Florida State, which was 8-2 and which for three straight years has gone on to bowl games.
...BUT A WHYMPER