At the intersection of sports and hip hop culture is the collaboration of basketball hall of famer Spencer Haywood and rap music icon Chuck D. Their cinema chemistry is born of a mystic synergy between two fans separated by more than a decade in age who marveled at each other’s skills from afar and unite for the documentary “Full Court.”
“Full Court” is the life story of Haywood from cotton fields in Mississippi to NBA stardom. This is also a love story about his 12-year marriage to supermodel Iman and an addiction to cocaine that almost derailed his career. It is also the story of how he defied the system that now gives some of the NBA’s best players a chance to set themselves up financially after one year of college though many treat him as a pariah.
“[Today’s] players need to know this history because nobody has ever talked about it,” said Haywood. “Why don’t any of the all-time greats acknowledge how they got there?”
As fate would have it, a subliminal kinship developed between Haywood and Chuck D. when Chuck D. put up on his wall a New York Daily News front page depicting Haywood when he was acquired by the Knicks in 1978. As a child Chuck D. drew pictures of Haywood, pictures that made their way into the film.
Once the preparation for the project began they found other similarities. Haywood was born in Mississippi where Chuck D. has family roots. They also learned that April 22nd – Spencer’s and his father’s birthday – was also the day that Chuck’s father was born.
“I was on that timeline when Spencer Haywood was making his way into his professional career,” said Chuck D. “He’s a hero from my timeline when I was impressionable”.
Haywood, who waited 35 years before his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, was the first player to challenge the game’s establishment for the right to leave college early and play in the NBA. It was a battle that went to the Supreme Court where in 1971 they ruled 7-2 that the NBA had been operating illegally by denying players a chance to make a living.
Chuck D. is the narrator for another in a series of sports documentaries which has turned into quite the second act in an illustrious career that began as the leader of the rap group Public Enemy in the late 1980s. He grew up on Long Island, New York and was greatly influenced by the civil rights climate of the late 1960s which defined his lyrics. Chuck D. was also a fan of basketball and the New York Knicks and was the voice of NBA TV’s critically acclaimed “Dr. J” documentary.
“I watched him play in the 1968 Olympics when I was eight,” Chuck D. adds. “With John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and George Foreman and all the political stuff that was going on I paid close attention to the Olympics.”
Haywood capitalized on playing for a USA Basketball team whose top players boycotted the Mexico City games in support of the civil rights movement. With players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, and Elvin Hayes remaining home, Haywood set an U.S. Olympic record for scoring in the tournament which stood for 44 years.
Despite opening the opportunity for young players to enter the NBA early Haywood is not revered by the generations of players who followed him. In fact, Haywood says, that when he walks into arenas players are reluctant to show respect or appreciation and generally try to avoid him.