"I think the reason the other 16 NBA teams did not sign or attempt to sign Haywood is that they felt he had a valid contract with Denver," says Los Angeles Lakers' general manager Fred Schaus. But the Lakers were one of six NBA teams that showed serious interest in signing Haywood. Spencer delayed closing his deal with the Sonics in order for Los Angeles to make an offer. Other NBA leaders have taken to moralizing about the sanctity of college basketball and what the signing of Haywood will do to the league's image.
"We're not the ones who made him a pro," says Lenny Wilkens, defending the Sonics' position. "The ABA made him a pro, and there is no way he is going back to college now. We're not the ones who are violating the rules. He's on the open market. I get tired of teams suing us because we signed him. They wanted to sign him, too."
Wilkens' last point is valid. What the other teams are really most concerned about is the draft system—the fact that if the court upholds the signing of Haywood, none of them will have a chance to obtain rights to him. "A lot of clubs were interested in talking to Haywood," says Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo, one of the few to address the core of the controversy. "I did myself, but I was informed by the NBA office that he must go through this year's draft. As much as I respect Sam Schulman as a progressive owner, I can't see the Board of Governors letting this take place. It's unfair, especially to Buffalo, Portland or Cleveland, teams that might have a chance to draft Haywood in the first round."
At the NBA board meeting during the All-Star break, the owners called for Kennedy to determine the "most drastic penalties" that could be imposed on Seattle without violating the injunction which stipulates that Haywood must play. Kennedy estimated that those penalties could range from minimal fines to disenfranchisement. Schulman angrily countered with threats to expose unspecified illegal policies which he alleges all the other owners in the league have followed at one time or another.
Such a harsh exchange would seem to preclude compromise, but the NBA owners did not arrive at their present position in sports by precluding compromise. They have shouted at each other before. An accommodation may yet be worked out that would have Seattle keeping Haywood but losing its first draft choice, paying a fine and giving up a veteran player to an expansion team.
Haywood and the NBA are due back in Judge Ferguson's court again later this week, and the issue will be the most far-reaching one of all—is the league violating antitrust laws? That kind of question can make a compromise overwhelmingly attractive to everyone. Self-interest, which got so many people into difficulty in this case, will probably get them out of it.