Before Russell Wilson.
Before Felix Hernandez.
Before Gary Payton, Ken Griffey Jr., and Steve Largent.
Before Seattle even had professional baseball, football, or soccer franchises, there was Spencer Haywood.
And more than four decades after the 6-foot-8 forward made his mark on the Emerald City — before it even had that moniker — as the city’s first pro superstar with the Supersonics, his larger story is now being told.
“Full Court: The Spencer Haywood Story“ premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival last weekend at SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.), just blocks away from the Coliseum (now KeyArena) he had once played in.
The documentary chronicles Haywood’s life from his humble beginnings as a child in Mississippi, to his stint as one of the top college players and member of the gold medal winning 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, and later his landmark Supreme Court case that paved the way for future generations of NBA players.
“When we came up with the idea for a movie, it was just perfect,” Haywood told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, “because I had other offers on the table and I just jumped on it and said, ‘Look, this is a chance for us to something really positive and do something really good, because this history, sports in Seattle is missing this whole history of what they have done, and what the city has done to create all of this wealth and all of this basketball that you see in today’s game, it came out of this one case, my case, the Supreme Court case, and Seattle owns that history and they have to step up and say, ‘Yeah, we are the Sonics.’”
For executive producer Dwayne Clark, also the founder and CEO of assisted living facility operator Aegis, said Haywood “has so many assets in terms of being documentary rich,” but that goes well beyond the basketball court, and even the court room.
“A lot of people see this as a sports story, but I see it more as a human rights story,” he said. “Spencer really paved the way for people to make a living because of what he did with the Supreme Court — more than being a sports superstar and being married to a supermodel — he really paved the way for young men to make hundreds of millions of dollars by being a courageous guy at 20 years old that decides to take on a goliath like the NBA and take it all the way to the Supreme Court. That was an incredible, courageous decision.”
Clark said there were three “divine interventions” that occurred to make the documentary a reality.
First, when Clark originally pursued the idea of a sports-related documentary, he had considered approaching Russell Wilson as a subject. It was at Wilson’s charity golf tournament that he ran into Haywood, who told Clark about his impending induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“What resonated, to be honest, with me was his story about rags to riches,” Clark said. “It struck a chord with me because we have very similar backgrounds, I came from a very impoverished background to be a CEO of a major company.”
After the tournament, the draw of chronicling Haywood’s path to the Hall of Fame was strong.
“All the way home, driving back from Suncadia, I said, ‘I think this is the event.”
The next day, he called Haywood, who was — obviously — on board.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with a Hollywood company coming to Seattle to tell a Seattle story,” he said. “And even though it’s a world story, the base of it all is out of Seattle.”
During that call, Haywood suggested having a camera crew on hand for the induction ceremony.
“As I hung up the phone,” Clark said, “I thought, ‘Where the heck am I going to get a camera crew?’”
This brought him to the second intervention.
After recently purchasing a collection of photos from the Kennedy estate — as someone who holds a rare John F. Kennedy collection — someone reached out to him about potentially getting access to the pictures.
Clark wasn’t interested in showing the photos, but his secretary encouraged him to speak with the caller, who just so happened to be a documentary filmmaker with more than 100 productions under his belt.
“He got so intrigued by the story he said, ‘Not only do I want to do it, I want to be your partner on the film,’” he said.
The final intervention dealt with a key figure in both Haywood and Clark’s lives: philosopher and self-help pioneer Wayne Dyer.
While attending college in Detroit in the late 1960s, Dyer served as a mentor for Haywood, and was a personal friend and spiritual guru for Clark.
“We got to a point of impasse, and were both kind of stubborn, and we got to this point where we said, ‘Well, I guess we’re not going to make this movie,’ and we both kind of slammed the phone down and said, ‘Okay, we’re done.’ and an hour later, Spencer called me and said, well, Wayne just died. … I guess he’s telling us both to get over ourselves and make this movie.”
Approximately 10 months later, the documentary screened for the first time at SIFF.
While many may be quick to think of Haywood just for his basketball acumen, Clark insisted that his story is so much more than that.
“I think a lot of people want to link Spencer to sports only,” he said, “and I think the story is much more far-reaching than this. I look at him as a civil rights icon, as a human rights icon.”
Haywood is also hopeful that the film might spark interest in the city to bring the NBA back to town.
“This will be an eye-opening history for them to know, so they will not let little petty things slow them down in terms of reclaiming their NBA heritage and history, and getting the Sonics back, and if not the Sonics, somebody else,” Haywood said. “But the league wants that team back in Seattle, I certainly want it back, and the fans definitely need it back.”
For more information on the documentary, visit www.fullcourtfilm.com.