Why I Thought About Murdering My NBA Coach (And Why I Didn't Do It)
And when I got to Los Angeles … I fell. I wanted to be in charge. You know, God's path was boring. I didn't do nothing. I was just playing basketball and eating right, doing the right thing. I wanted to see what the devil was like.
The whole thing started off wrong.
That whole process was wrong. I mean, I got there and it was supposed to be the best of times. We've got this young guard from Michigan State. I played with Kareem, my longtime best friend, and I'm playing with Jamaal Wilkes. We've got Norm Nixon. I mean, I've got Jack McKinney who really, really wanted me to be a Laker. They did a lot of things to get me to be a Laker. And lo and behold, I wanted to get in charge. And it's the only time I really wanted to be in charge. For some reason I wanted to be different than Weedie. You know, Weedie is this country boy that did everything by the book, right up, straight up, and just righteous and never would do something that.
If it wasn't from the ground, if it wasn't from the earth, I would never use it. You know, so here I was using an extreme chemical, then I would redo the chemical to make it more of a chemical.
You know, cocaine is a very fast, demonic ... I mean, I was always uncomfortable. I was always very uncomfortable with the idea, because I was paranoid. And paranoia is like an uncomfortableness. It was like just the weirdest thing. I mean, I never was like ... if I took a puff of coke ... I mean, it would be like, all of a sudden I'm paranoid. I'm looking for somebody coming out of a light bulb. I'm crawling on the floor looking around for other coke and [Swearing is not permitted at Clublakers. You must edit this post prior to submitting.]. It was just never ... whatever people felt, I didn't feel it. But after the first time I did it, I wanted to do it the second time. And after I did it the second time I wanted to do it the third time. So basically I was hooked on the devil's juice.
It was hard. It was not like a passing fancy. It was really hard. And I was running with some hard people who didn't know any better either.
You know I was listening to rock music in 1980? There ain't nothing wrong with rock, but I had been a jazz man all my life, so what was I doing? I'm talking about the Doors, like "This is the end." I loved that song. "This is the end, my friend." I'm like, What the hell?
[In 1988, Haywood, with writer Scott Ostler, revealed in People magazine that he'd considered killing Lakers coach Paul Westhead, who had suspended Haywood indefinitely after Game 3 of the 1980 NBA Finals. Haywood had gotten into a shouting match with teammates Brad Holland and Jim Chones after the game. As a result of his suspension, he explained in People, "I turned all my anger toward Westhead," who had taken over as interim coach after Jack McKinney was nearly killed in a bike accident. Haywood goes on to write: "I left the Forum and drove off in my Rolls that night thinking one thought—that Westhead must die. I drove through the streets plotting the man's murder. In the heat of anger and the daze of coke, I phoned an old friend of mine in Detroit, a guy named Gregory, a genuine certified gangster. I said, ''C'mon out here, buddy. I got someone I want you to take care of.' He said, 'No problem, Wood. Love to do that for you.' The next day Greg and his partner flew to L.A., ready to go to work. We sat down and figured it out. Westhead lived in Palos Verdes, and we got his street address. We would sabotage his car, mess with his brake lining."]
What happened was this: I had hooked up with people who was spurring on this talk. "They can't do that [Swearing is not permitted at Clublakers. You must edit this post prior to submitting.] to you, blah blah blah blah. You've got to take charge. You've got to do what you need to do." So, of course, I get the idea that, well, yeah, this is the last guy that pulled the string right here, because I went to the team with three games to go and said, "Look, I've got a problem, man. You know, I'll sit the bench or whatever. I don't want to be a disturbance or anything, but this is what has happened."
I mean, there was a thought about this. It was not a plot per se that you went and sat outside his house waiting for him to come out. They're more like, you know, "Spike his drink" or "Spike his car" or something. We did drive down to Palos Verdes and we looked around, and when I came back I got high. My mother called and she said, "Hey boy, what the hell are you up to?" And my paranoia, as I was explaining before about the drug, is that everybody knew what I was doing, including my mother. So what was going in my mind was unholy, ungodly and not clear at all, so I knew my mother was onto it.
When I got back, I did some more coke, and that's when I hit rock bottom, when I realized what the hell I was thinking about. It wasn't an act. I didn't attempt to do anything. But it was an evil intent. I know my God is watching me at this time. And I really went off my rocker.
I don't even know where he lived [laughs]. I mean, that's the drugs. You know, they talk. They had me willing to, you know ...
Everything was kind of coming to a head right there. And so what the Lakers did do is they gave me the opportunity to get out of the mess and get my sanity and get my holiness back. So that's what the Italy trip was about.
The Lakers really were trying to help. I mean, at that time Dr. Buss and Bill Sharman— I really think they were trying to help me. It was like, "What do we do?" I mean, there were no recovery programs in 1980. There were no recovery programs, so they suggested that I should go to Italy. The only way they're going to honor the contract—I was still under contract with the Lakers—is if I go out of the country, and that way they could reserve the right to bring me back if they wanted to. So I ended up in Venice, Italy, where I was angry, hurt. I mean, at that time I didn't see the disease part of what had happened. I felt that I was betrayed by my teammates. I was betrayed by my owners. I mean, that's what I thought. But I got to Italy and all that mean and all that hate and anger that I had was loved right out of me by the Italians.
I didn't have a passport. My passport had expired [laughs]. I had to go get a passport to go to Italy. I was just using my passport for Paris and other things, and it had expired. I had to go get another passport.
That was part of the bottom, when I was on that flight going to Rome. My flight was L.A. to Boston, then from Boston to Rome. So I caught hell in that airport in Boston. That was the journey. And then when I got to Italy I was like, "What the hell am I doing over here?" I'm going over here to a foreign country and, you know, "What the hell?" I flew into Venice, and the Venice airport is on the mainland, and the city is out in the ocean, so it was like, "[Swearing is not permitted at Clublakers. You must edit this post prior to submitting.]."
I have seen redemption in my life. I mean, I've experienced it. I was walking the path. I know about God. But it was just leaving that baggage, leaving your luggage alone. You know, you're dropping your bags right there and saying, "Hey, I know what I need to do. I know who's waiting for me."
Through the Lakers, through Jerry Buss, through Bill Sharman, God intervened and sent me off to Italy in order for me to get my sanity. Italy was the best thing that ever happened to me.
When I got to Washington, we had all of those young players, and I fell into the hands of another great coach. My guy was Gene Shue, and still is Gene Shue, who had the faith in me to say, "Take this team, and let's go." And that was like, "Oh, wow." And then they would give me like a day off on Sundays when we didn't have games and practice, and I would run up—at that time Eastern Airlines had the commuter service from Washington D.C. to New York—to be with my family, to be with Iman and my daughters who lived there, and then I'd zip back to Washington. And so it wasn't just basketball. It was just a beautiful time.
I like things very simple. So Washington was a simple time. I was at the seat of the government and all of these things going on around me, but I was just not there with it. It was just simple. On my way to practice every day I went to the health club and worked out on weights. It was just a simple, basic routine. What is better than that?
Iman was in a very bad automobile accident in New York. She was in a cab and was struck, and it was very bad. I had a young daughter, Zulekha, then I also had Iman's sister, Nadia, who was living with us from Somalia, so, you know, I had young people and I had Iman. I had serious responsibilities. So I took the time off to do that, and then I wanted to go back to basketball, but basketball was not available when I wanted to come back. I mean, I left to take care of my family.
She was going for a shoot and whatever in New York, and it was a very, very bad automobile accident. Her face had to be reconstructed. Not as cosmetic surgery but the bones in her head were like just crushed. My gut instinct was that I've got to take care of my wife and my family.
I thought there would always be a place. I had made such a great contribution to basketball that I thought that, Hey, wherever I walked on the court and want to get a tryout or want to get myself together or play, let's get it on and I'll show you what I can do.
What happened was: I left to go home. They released me after I was at home, when I was at home with my family, because at that time I couldn't come back to the team. I just said, "Well, you know, I don't think I can come back. I mean, this situation is ..." And the Washington Bullets, Bob Ferry and everybody was very open and very clear with me. We need you this year because we're on our way to a playoff again. We had just took Boston to the brink that year before. I thought I would be gone until at least the playoff time, or close to it. But the Bullets didn't see it that way and I understood it.
I actually wanted to go back to Washington. I definitely wanted to go back to Washington. But Washington felt betrayed because I had left, so my next stop was going home, going back to Detroit to be with my family and Mr. Will Robinson, who was the assistant general manager and the head scout for the Pistons. So I got there and I should've taken the job in broadcasting they offered me, but I wanted to play and that only happened one day in practice, so I didn't even get a chance to show my stuff. So then I knew. Then I knew that the NBA was not where I'm going to play anymore.
That is a very big shock. It's hard, you know. It's hard but it's fair. I mean, basketball had given me everything, so I couldn't be that mad at basketball. I mean, basketball is king to me, always.
It was very painful. When I look at what I went through, I mean, from the Lakers to Washington to Italy and all that, I look through it all and, you know, it was very painful but it was acceptable.