In late 2015, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James inked a lifetime contract with Nike. Insiders hinted that the deal could be worth more than $1 billion, making it the largest single athlete guarantee in the sports apparel company's history. Or so the world thinks.
At the screening of his documentary entitled, Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story, the NBA Hall of Famer claims the offer he passed up with the apparel company was much more lucrative.
Nike approached the then-21-year-old Seattle Super Sonic with two options: either $100,000 cash, or 10 percent of the business in exchange for promoting its shoes. Haywood's agent saw a potential commission payment and advised him to take the money. Today, that 10 percent ownership would have a valuation of roughly $8.62 billion. Yep. That's right. Eight-point-six-two-billion-dollars.
I attended the documentary screening at the NBA Legends Event in Las Vegas, during last week's NBA Summer Games. In speaking with Haywood, it's safe to say that the deep exhale projected from his 6-foot 9-inch frame when broaching the topic was revealing. This was clearly, one of the biggest regrets of his life.
Now before we beat up on Haywood, these types of decisions happen frequently in the startup world. And no one has a crystal ball. Nike was a relatively unknown company, known as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, only to become Nike Inc. in 1971. Prior to becoming a four-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer, Haywood was shooting a homemade ball that didn't bounce, into a box on a pole in a Mississippi cotton field.
The 90-minute film, which is narrated by rap legend Chuck D., chronicles Haywood's rise from poverty. He won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, and two years later, he challenged the NBA's eligibility rules. The case went to the Supreme Court before settlement, granting Haywood early eligibility into the league at age 21. He was active in the NBA from 1969 to 1983, averaging a double-double nearly every time he hit the paint with career totals of 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He became one of the greatest forwards in NBA history and won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980. He also became the subject of Nike's first ad in 1973, paving the way for future athletes.
The NBA invited Haywood to the draft this past June in Brooklyn, New York, to meet with league executives and discuss formally changing the name of its eligibility rule to the Spencer Haywood rule.
"I want that name," he said. "That means everything. It would solidify history. Every time those young men walk on that draft stage, they're walking with me."
While his curriculum vitae doesn't include ownership of Nike, it's safe to say that in countless ways, Haywood rewrote history. That is, his story.