Spencer Haywood addresses court case, early-entry players in HOF speech

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Eric Freeman
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Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Spencer Haywood thanks presenter Charles Barkley, pictured on screen, during the enshrinement ceremony for the Class of 2015 of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Spencer Haywood thanks presenter Charles Barkley, pictured on screen, during the enshrinement ceremony for the Class of 2015 of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Spencer Haywood may not be the most popular member of the 2015 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction class — that title likely belongs to Dikembe Mutombo — but he arguably had the greatest impact on the history of the NBA. The University of Detroit star and 1968 Olympic gold medalist left college after his sophomore season in 1969 to provide for his family and signed a contract with the Denver Nuggets of the ABA, leading the league in scoring and rebounding as a rookie.

Haywood attempted to join the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics on a six-year deal the following season, but league rules prohibited participation before the graduation of their collegiate class. Sonics owner Sam Schulman filed suit against the league in a case that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court before the parties reached an out-of-court settlement that opened the NBA up to early-entry candidates, changing the course of the league forever.

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Despite his legal success and fantastic career, Haywood was criticized widely for hurting college basketball and was kept out of the Hall of Fame for what many perceived to be sour grapes (an admitted cocaine addiction did not help his cause, either). When Haywood finally gave his induction speech in Springfield, Mass. on Friday, he did not shy away from speaking about the positive impact of his court case. In fact, he tied his remarkable history to the success of many of this era's best players. Take a look:

Haywood began his speech by talking about his upbringing in tiny Silver City, Miss., where his mother picked cotton for meager wages and the family's relationship with God involved praying for their next meal. His pursuit of a basketball career took him to Detroit for high school and onto several colleges before he left school for a professional contract. Haywood's story crowds out any question of a vendetta against the NCAA. He was just a poor kid looking to using his talents and skills to earn money to help those close to him rise up from abject poverty to a more comfortable life.

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The 66-year-old Hawyood (now sober for 35 years) told Matt Winer of Turner Sports in a pre-ceremony interview that he understood the meaning of his case at the time, but it's clear that the past few decades have added extra perspective. Not every active player mentioned by Haywood in his speech faced the same sort of hardship as he did, but the general principle of young men being able to pursue their careers before reaching an arbitrary age threshold has persisted through the preps-to-pros era and into current debates over the fairness of the NBA's age limit.

Haywood changed the substance of that conversation for the better and deserves an equal amount of credit for the accomplishments of his on-court career. Thankfully, he did not pass up an opportunity to seize his moment on stage.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!