By Justin Adams

DENVER (CBS4) – The only player to be named MVP in Denver professional basketball franchise history (to date) is Spencer Haywood, when the Nuggets were known as the Denver Rockets in the American Basketball Association. When he was 20 and a rookie on the Denver Rockets, Haywood averaged 30 points and 19.5 rebounds and was named as the 1969-70 ABA’s MVP.

Spencer Haywood of the Denver Rockets on April 17, 1970.

Spencer Haywood of the Denver Rockets on April 17, 1970. (credit: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

“It was an awesome year. It was the best year of any player in the history of professional basketball,” said the 6-foot-9 player, who was also named Rookie of the Year and All-Star MVP.

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Haywood knows the Colorado basketball scene very well. He played his freshman season of college basketball at Trinidad State Junior College. During the 1967-68 season, he led the Trojans to a 27-3 record and a No. 6 national ranking, while averaging 27 points and 22 rebounds.

“Trinidad fit me perfectly. We traveled all over Colorado because all of the great players were in junior college at that time because they hadn’t accepted Black players in the majors, only a few exceptions like USC, Houston, etc. But most players will spend one or two years in junior college and then move up to the university level,” Haywood said.

After the season, Haywood earned a roster spot on the USA men’s basketball team and won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. After spending one season at the University of Detroit, he was back in Colorado a year later, this time leaving college early to sign with the Denver Rockets on a six-year, $1.9 million deal.

The Rockets went 51-33 and finished with the best record in the ABA’s Western Division. After beating the Washington Capitols in the semifinals, the Rockets lost in five games to the Los Angles Stars in the Western Division Finals.

“We had a good run. We were just playing basketball and enjoying ourselves. The people in Denver rallied around the team it was, it was everything,” Haywood recalled.

Haywood would leave the Rockets after the season following a contract dispute with owner Bill Ringsby. He signed on with the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA, but he was breaking an NBA rule since he was not four years removed from high school. So, he sued the league, and the case went to the Supreme Court in Haywood v. the National Basketball Association. On March 1, 1971, the case went in his favor 9-0, allowing young men to leave college early and go pro.

“We have estimated that over $31 billion in player revenue has been created from this cotton picker from Silver City, Mississippi who changed that, changed the game of basketball,” he said.

Spencer won a championship in 1980 with the Los Angeles Lakers and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. But he is looking for one more honor from the Nuggets.

“I’m waiting for somebody to say, well let’s put his jersey in the ceiling and let’s make it reality because I am the only MVP in the history of the franchise,” he said.

Spencer Haywood

Spencer Haywood is pictured here receiving the ABA 1969-70 most valuable player award. (credit: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

He is also using his fame to encourage others to take care of their health by getting the coronavirus vaccine.

“Denver, Colorado, let’s vax up. Let’s get ready because we are the champions. We have everything in our favor. Let’s keep it rolling.”

Justin Adams