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NBA 75 Series: #38 Elvin Hayes

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Coming in at #38 in my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is one of the greatest power forwards in NBA History, Elvin Hayes. Hayes was born on November 17, 1945, in Rayville, Louisiana. He averaged 35 points per game at Eula D. Britton High School, which would lead to a bunch of colleges wanting his services, eventually choosing to play for the Houston Cougars.

While at Houston, Hayes would be named an All-American three times, with his best season coming in 1968 where averaged a staggering 31 points and 17.2 rebounds per game for the Cougars to go on to win the National Player of the Year.

On January 20, 1968, Hayes and the Cougars would match up with Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and the UCLA Bruins in the first ever nationally televised regular season game in college basketball history at the Houston Astrodome of a raucous crowd of 52,693 fans. Hayes wouldn’t disappoint in front of the home crowd, as he would go on to score 39 points and grab 15 rebounds while limiting Kareem to just 15 points, helping Houston beat UCLA 71-69 in a tight nosed game to snap the Bruins 47-game winning streak in what has been called the “Game of the Century”

That wasn’t the only matchup of the two future NBA legends that season, as Hayes and Kareem would later meet up in the NCAA Tournament at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden implemented a “triangle and two” zone defense of Kareem and Lynn Shackleford to double team Hayes and make life tough on him which worked, limiting him to a mere 10 points in a 101-69 UCLA win.

Hayes would end his college career leading Houston in scoring for all three seasons with averages of 27.2, 28.4, and 36.8 respectively. He would go on to become the first pick in the 1968 NBA and ABA Draft by the San Diego Rockets and Houston Mavericks, respectively.

He would go on to instantly lead the NBA in scoring (28.4 points per game) while also averaging 17.1 rebounds, losing Rookie of the Year honors to his future teammate Wes Unseld, who would also go on to win the league MVP that same year.

Ultimately, Hayes was one of the most talented, durable, and productive players in league history, “The Big E” used his signature turnaround jumper and aggressive defense to secure his place amongst the greats of the game. An All-Star for each of his first 12 seasons, he scored 27,313 career points (11th all-time) and grabbed 16,279 rebounds (4th all-time). Hayes was immensely popular with fans, appreciating his dominating style of play as well as his persona off the court. But he was less endearing to coaches and teammates. Critics felt he had an attitude problem that sometimes short-circuited the teams he played for and probably prevented the Bullets from repeating.

He formed a frontcourt nightmare with Unseld, ultimately making three Finals appearances and capturing the 1978 title in seven games over the Seattle Supersonics, the only championship in Washington’s franchise history. During that 1978 run Hayes averaged 21.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in 21 playoff games and set an NBA Finals record for most offensive rebounds in a game (11), in a May 27, 1979 game against the SuperSonics.

Hayes is an NBA champion (1978), 12-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-Defensive selection, led the league in scoring (1969), and led the league in rebounds twice (1970, 1974). He is one of the most underrated greats and forwards in league history who was a lethal scorer, strong rebounder, and disciplined defender.


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