Haywood finally gets elected to Basketball Hall of Fame, decades after his career ended. He was Seattle’s first pro sports phenom.

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Spencer Haywood is on the phone, relaxing at his Las Vegas home and trying to express what it means to finally make the Hall of Fame.

He starts a thought and then pauses. He starts again and stops once more. At last, he settles on exactly what he wants to say.

“Let me put it like this, OK?” said Haywood, who was announced last week as a member of the 2015 Naismith Hall of Fame class. “What if no one heard Nirvana play except people in Seattle? What if all that great music wasn’t out there to be celebrated by as many people as possible and to cement the connection between the city and the band? For so long, that’s how I’ve felt, like a gifted artist who wasn’t being heard by all.

“My career was never to be spoken about, not as a pioneer, not as a man who changed the game. Word was out that, whatever you do, don’t talk to him. He’s a troublemaker. My whole history was pushed under the rug. Then, all of a sudden, the rug has been lifted. The Hall of Fame gives the opportunity for people to see the real Spencer Haywood, to know what I did and who I am. I’m no longer the maverick on the outside.”

Forty-four years later, the door is open to Haywood again. In 1970, a 21-year-old Haywood challenged the NBA’s rule that players couldn’t join the league before they had been out of high school for four years. Haywood and Sonics owner Sam Schulman took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and won in 1971. Haywood only wanted to play basketball, but now he was an NBA iconoclast, and the NCAA despised the precedent his lawsuit victory would set.

He went on to have a great but wild NBA career, starting in Seattle. Haywood was Seattle’s first pro sports phenom. He was No. 24 before Ken Griffey Jr. was No. 24, before Dennis Johnson helped the Sonics win a championship wearing the same number. The fledgling pro sports town hadn’t seen an athlete so gifted at such a young age. The Sonics had been a franchise for just three seasons. The Pilots, Seattle’s first Major League Baseball team, had relocated to Milwaukee after spending only the 1969 season in town.

Haywood was a player to marvel. He stood 6 feet 8, weighed 225 pounds and was blessed with great agility. He remembers a home game during his first season in which he attempted to please the crowd. He ripped a rebound out of the air and dribbled between his legs as he raced down the court. Then he used a crossover dribble to blow past a defender before cocking back the basketball as far as he could and throwing down a thunderous dunk.

Seattle Coliseum fell silent.

And then fans cheered.

“They were like, ‘What the heck was that?’ ” Haywood said. “They had to think, ‘Is he being a hot dog or what?’ Then they realized, OK, this is what the new basketball is all about.”

Haywood came to the Sonics after averaging 30 points and 19.5 rebounds as a rookie for Denver in the ABA. He was already an Olympic gold medalist, leading the United States to victory in 1968 while shooting 71.9 percent for the tournament, a Team USA record. Over five seasons in Seattle, he averaged 24.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. His best season came in 1972-73 when he averaged 29.2 points and 12.9 rebounds as a 23-year-old.

Lenny Wilkens was Seattle’s first pro star. Griffey later became its first transcendent figure. But for those who have lived through the city’s entire 48-year history as a pro sports habitat, Haywood stands as its first game-changing pro athlete.

“They loved me, and I loved them more,” Haywood said of Seattle. “I remember flying into Seattle that first day, coming from Denver. Man, it was like I was flying to a postcard. Wow, what a beautiful place.”

Haywood remembers the beauty and not the ugliness of what he endured because of the lawsuit that changed basketball. He isn’t bitter about having to wait until age 65 to get the Hall call. He has lived a crazy life — from Silver City, Miss., cotton picker, to Detroit baller, to Olympian, to outcast, to superstar, to drug addict, to spiritual family man — and learned to react with grace.

“The bitterness evaporated long ago because I had reached such a good space in my life,” Haywood said. “Anger, it tears your soul. And I don’t want to go there. The journey has been painful enough.”

It’s a journey that will end in an appropriate place. Haywood will be enshrined in September. He has five months to decide which current Hall of Famers he should ask to accompany him on stage. He has already thought about including Wilkens, a Sonic and consummate friend; Gary Payton, another Sonic; and Charles Barkley, a vocal proponent of his Hall of Fame credentials.

This is the fun stuff, choosing whose hand to hold as you leap into immortality.

“I think of Curt Flood a lot right now,” said Haywood, referring to the deceased baseball star who was one of the most influential players in redefining the labor laws of American pro sports. “He challenged baseball, and that man died a broken man, and baseball players never gave him a second look. I’m grateful to God that I’m healthy, and I can see this day, and players today can see me. I’ve been carrying a burden for so long. When they took the Sonics and put them in Oklahoma City, I started wondering if the NBA was so harsh because we sued the league.

“The mind wanders so many places. That’s what happens when you feel like people are saying, ‘We’re gonna keep that brother suppressed.’ ”

No one can suppress Haywood anymore. He’s a Hall of Famer. The maverick is on the inside.

“I don’t want to be too controversial,” Seattle’s first pro sports phenom says, laughing. “I just want to go to the Hall and be peaceful.”