In conjunction with the release of a new Hardwood Classics green-and-gold uniform from the team’s San Diego days, the Rockets announced Thursday that they will retire the No. 44 jersey to the Toyota Center rafters in honor of Hall of Fame center Elvin Hayes.
Hayes was drafted by San Diego with the No. 1 overall pick in the first round of the 1968 NBA draft. As with the rest of the Rockets, he moved to Houston once the team relocated in 1971.
“We are thrilled to celebrate Elvin Hayes’ stellar career by retiring his jersey,” said Tilman Fertitta, current owner of the Rockets.
“Elvin was the original basketball superstar in the City of Houston and has a lasting legacy with not only the NBA and the Rockets, but the University of Houston, as well. We’re excited to honor Elvin and his family this November and see his jersey hang where it belongs, alongside the other legends from our franchise’s storied history.”
Hayes’ No. 44 jersey is already retired at the University of Houston, where he played college basketball.
“Representing the Rockets and the City of Houston has meant so much to me throughout my life,” Hayes said. “Knowing that my number will stand with the other great players in franchise history is truly an honor. I want to thank Tilman and the Fertitta family, along with the Rockets organization, and most importantly the fans for the love they have shown me throughout my playing career and beyond. I look forward to celebrating this special moment with all of you in November.”
Cemented in Rockets history.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) August 31, 2022
The jersey retirement ceremony will take place at halftime of Houston’s game versus Indiana on Friday, Nov. 18. As part of the celebration, and in recognition of the franchise’s 55th anniversary season, the Rockets will debut their green San Diego Hardwood Classics jersey made popular by Hayes and Calvin Murphy.
From the team’s announcement, here are additional details regarding Hayes’ outstanding career in college and professional basketball:
During his career with the Cougars, Hayes was a two-time consensus All-American and the Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year as a senior. In a game played in front of over 52,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968, Hayes led the Cougars to a 71-69 win over UCLA, snapping the Bruins 47-game winning streak. The broadcast of what became known as the “Game of the Century” is recognized as legitimizing college basketball’s potential on television and laying the groundwork for the future success of the NCAA Tournament and the evolution of March Madness.
After helping the Cougars reach their second straight Final Four, Hayes was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the 1968 NBA draft. He averaged a league-high 28.4 points in his first season and is still the last rookie to have led the NBA in scoring. Hayes was the Rockets leading scorer and rebounder during the team’s inaugural season in Houston in 1971-72. Across his first four seasons, Hayes averaged 27.4 points per game and 16.3 rebounds for the Rockets.
In June of 1972, Hayes was traded to the Baltimore Bullets to team up with fellow future Hall of Famer Wes Unseld. They formed one of the more formidable frontcourt combinations in league history and led Washington to three Finals appearances, including the franchise’s first and only championship in 1977-78.
Houston re-acquired Hayes from Washington in June of 1981 and he spent his final three seasons wearing No. 44 as a Rocket, retiring at the conclusion of the 1983-84 campaign.
In 16 seasons, Hayes averaged 21.0 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, joining Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bob Pettit as the only players in NBA history with career averages of at least 21.0 points and 12.0 rebounds. Hayes was named All-NBA First Team three times, All-NBA Second Team three times, and All-Defensive Second Team twice.
Hayes never played fewer than 80 games in a single season and was the NBA’s all-time leader in games played (1,303) and minutes played (50,000) at the time of his retirement. He also ranked third in both scoring (27,313 points) and rebounding (16,279) when his career finished and still ranks 11th and fourth, respectively.
“The Big E” was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996 and to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021 He was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Hayes will become the seventh Rockets player to have his number retired, joining Clyde Drexler, Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Yao Ming. Former general manager Carroll Dawson also had his initials retired.
The 12-time All-Star joins a short list of NBA players to have their number retired by multiple franchises, with Washington having already retired his No. 11 on Nov. 20, 1981.