Elvin Hayes — nicknamed “The Big E” — was known for two things: durability and his signature turnaround jumper.
Hayes only missed nine games during his 16-year NBA career. Relying on his signature offensive move, Hayes scored 27,313 points, including a career-high 28.7 points in the 1970-71 season.
An exceptional rebounder and defender, Hayes is the top scorer and shot blocker and second-best rebounder in Washington franchise history.
The 76-year old great chopped it up about the past and present state of the NBA.
Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
Also, current full-time HBCU undergraduate (rising juniors and seniors) and graduate students can apply via careers.nba.com/early-career-programs/ through Feb. 20, 2022 to intern with the league office or teams for a 10-week period this summer.
NBA.com: How much basketball do you still watch?
Elvin Hayes: I watch quite a bit of NBA still. I don’t have a favorite team outside of Houston. I watch the Rockets. They are an inexperienced, young basketball team that is trying to get some experience. That’s my team right now. They’ve had some injuries and haven’t had an opportunity to get it together yet.
Which player in the league do you enjoy watching do his thing?
How would you slow down Giannis?
That’s not for me to do. Luckily, I don’t have to play against him so I don’t have to worry about stopping him. I can just watch and enjoy him.
You were known for shooting your trademark turnaround jumper. It was on the same level as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook in terms of being hard to defend.
When I was just starting out, I wanted to make sure nobody blocked my shot. What I did was come up with a shot that wouldn’t permit guys to just block it. I started shooting that fadeaway and it worked out for me.
Kareem’s skyhook was unstoppable. All you could do was look at it. My turnaround jumper was my patented shot like the skyhook was Kareem’s patented shot.
What’s the biggest difference in the game now compared to when you were playing?
Everyone is shooting outside now. A lot of shots that we never would have thought of shooting, players are taking now. We were shooting like two 3-pointers a game. Now the entire game is 3-pointers and sometimes you drop it on the inside.
Take a player like Giannis. He’s a 7-footer, but he can go outside and shoot a 3, he can drive and make layups. He never really only stays inside cause he don’t have to. The game has evolved where the big men can play anywhere on the court they want. When I was playing, coaches would be like ‘don’t be out there handling the ball!’ I wasn’t allowed to go out that far to handle and shoot the ball. Now guys can go anywhere they want. They can cross half court and shoot the ball. The big guys now can be wherever they want. Just going inside is not the case anymore.
Would you have got buckets in today’s game?
My game wouldn’t have had to be different now. I scored over 27,000 points. They would have had to figure out how they would play me. The game now would still allow me to rebound and block shots the way I did.
You’re a Hall of Famer, made the 50th Anniversary team and now the 75th Anniversary team. I guess you could play a little bit (laughing).
Yeah, it was a great honor making the 75 team. I made the 50 then they added 25 more players so it’s exciting making it. So many great players have played this game so its an honor and privilege to be part of the 75.
In the late 1960s and 70s, you had some epic battles on the court.
Every night I had to play against a Hall of Famer. It wasn’t like I could duck this guy or get around this guy. With Houston I had to play against Wes Unseld, then Jabbar, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Willis Reed and Nate Thurmond. I had to play against all those guys night in and night out. It was totally different back then. Every time I went out, I knew I had to play at a certain level.
Who was the toughest player you ever went against?
Anytime I went on the court against Jabbar from college to the pros, it was always a special moment. Julius Erving, too. I got up for those two and tried to be a better player when I faced them. I’ll never forget the time Doc dunked on me. He jumped liked he was a 7-foot-5 guy. Doc served me. He was a really great player.
You led the Bullets to the NBA championship in 1978. How special was that?
When you’re playing basketball, you always gear yourself towards one goal — to be a champion. And when you make that goal become a reality it’s an amazing feat. No matter how great you are, they always judge you by if you won or lost a championship. You have to be able to win a championship in order to say my dream came true. Your talent is judged on you winning a championship. That’s what’s important.