Forward Spencer Haywood of the Washington Bullets said yesterday that he is retiring "only for the rest of the season" in order to take care of his wife, who is recuperating from serious injuries incurred in a recent automobile accident.
The Bullets announced that Haywood retired from basketball altogether, but Haywood, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, said he plans to play again next year.
"I'm going to come back and play with someone," he said. "I'll try my luck wherever I can. I'd love to come back with the Bullets, but I don't know if it'll be with them. All I know for sure is that I am coming back."
Haywood, 33, played in only 38 games this season. He missed 16 games because of illness or injury and one game when Coach Gene Shue simply didn't play him. He has been in New York with his wife, Iman, a fashion model, during the team's last four games.
Haywood threatened to retire in November after a calf injury, but after talking to Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry went on the injured list instead. He missed 11 games. After nine games back, however, he got poked in the eye in practice and missed two more games. Then, after 12 games, he got flu and missed two more games.
Early last month Haywood said that in spite of the injuries, he would finish out the season and that he had a renewed zest for playing. The automobile accident involving his wife changed all of that.
She sustained broken ribs and facial injuries and has had surgery, Haywood said. "There's no one to take care of my wife or daughter," he added, "and I didn't feel right asking the Bullets for more time off, so I just kind of retired for the rest of the season. I need time with my wife and daughter. I'm the only family they have here (his wife is from Somalia) and they have to come first. There's no one else to take care of them."
Haywood said his 5-year-old daughter, Zulekha, was having some serious emotional problems related to her mother's accident.
Said Shue: "Spencer had a fabulous year for us last season and he started out the same way this year, but then he was besieged with injuries and I think that was the main factor in him not being able to perform like he wanted. His wife's accident was the final thing. I'm just happy he was able to contribute as much as he did for as long as he did."
Shue added that the team needed a player with Haywood's skills, but has already adjusted to not having Haywood. He said the Bullets would probably sign a player to replace him.
Because it is past the Feb. 15 trading deadline, the only way the Bullets can replace Haywood is with a free agent.
"He was a key reason for us making the playoffs (last season)," Ferry said. "This year, for various reasons, he has been unable to contribute as much as he would have liked and, compounded by his wife's accident, he felt this decision was in his best interest."
Haywood signed with the Bullets in October 1981 as a free agent and averaged 13.3 points in the regular season and 20 points in the playoffs. This season, however, he averaged only 8.2 points and shot 40 percent. In his 12-year professional career, Haywood scored 14,582 points and had a 19.2 average.
Haywood's biggest contribution to basketball, however, came through a court case that made it possible for undergraduates to play in the NBA.
Before Haywood tested the rule in court, a college player was ineligible for the NBA until after his college class graduated. The American Basketball Association had no such rule, so Haywood played with Denver in that league.
When he wanted to jump to the Seattle SuperSonics, he was blocked by the NBA. Haywood went to court and the result was the hardship rule which allowed undergraduates to apply for the draft.