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Though he became an NBA legend, Elvin Hayes almost didn’t play basketball. If not for a school teacher who pushed him into sport in middle school, his life may have been quite different. The NBA Hall of Famer was born November 17, 1945 in Rayville, La.

Hayes was incorrectly punished for a class prank and en route to the principal’s office, a teacher allowed him to come to his classroom and introduced him to basketball. Already tall in ninth grade, Hayes was a shy and introverted kid who at the time had absolutely no skills on the court. In the summer, he worked out and willed himself to become adept, becoming a basketball star in the latter part of his high school career.

In 1966, Hayes saw basketball as a way out of poverty and the racism of the Deep South. The talented big man joined the University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team. He and future Temple University basketball coach Don Chaney were the first Black players for the squad. During a nationally televised regular season NCAA men’s basketball game in January 1968, Hayes outdueled the UCLA Bruins and its star big man Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Hayes went number one in the 1968 NBA Draft to the San Diego Rockets (now the Houston Rockets), He spent a few seasons with the team before being traded to the Baltimore Bullets ( now the Washington Wizards), helping the franchise win its lone championship in 1978. Over the course of his career, Hayes was selected to the NBA All-Star Game 12 times made the All-NBA First Team three times, and is a member of the legendary NBA 50th Anniversary Team.

The Iota Phi Theta fraternity member walked away from the game in 1984 after returning to Houston. He remained in the region and opened a number of businesses while also finishing his college obligations at the University of Houston, calling it the hardest thing he’s ever done. He also fulfilled a lifelong dream in 2007 by becoming a reserve police officer.

Hayes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, boycotting the honor until his college coach was inducted, which took place in 2013. Hayes may have been inspired by NBA legend Bill Russell. Russell is the first Black player to get into the Hall, who refused the honor until this month, because he felt another player, Chuck Cooper, the first Black NBA player to be drafted, deserved it first.


PHOTO: George Gjokovich Sporting News archives/Public Domain