Players and coaches get into feuds from time to time. It's to be expected when two competitive forces clash amid their obsessive quest for victory. Usually, things cool down. If not, someone gets traded or fired. But, in the case of former Los Angeles Lakers forward Spencer Haywood vs. head coach Paul Westhead, it almost ended with a dead body.
Plotting a murder
After Game 3 of the 1980 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, Purple and Gold forward Spencer Haywood got into a shouting match against teammates Brad Holland and Jim Chones. Westhead suspended Haywood for an indefinite period. This triggered Haywood to harbor dark thoughts against Westhead. In a tell-all confession in People magazine in 1988, Haywood shared what his headspace was like on that night he was slapped with a suspension.
“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,” Haywood wrote.
Haywood admitted that some people around him encouraged him to turn his fantasy of killing his coach into a dark reality. These people whispered to his ear: you can’t let him do this. This is the NBA Finals. Their sinister advice, coupled with the drugs in his system, activated Haywood’s thirst for murder.
A million ways to die, choose one
In 2014, some 34 years after his murderous plot, Haywood revisited the dark tale via Deadspin. He shared that he wasn’t necessarily thirsting for blood. Haywood was setting up for a discreet murder. But his assassin’s blueprint immediately got thrown into the trash bin after his mother called.
“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,” Haywood said.
Haywood calls that episode the night he hit rock bottom. He blamed the drugs, which he believed were talking to him, nudging him to perform nefarious deeds. Though Haywood never returned to the NBA Finals after that incident, the Lakers did award him a ring.
The Lakers front office — led by Jerry Buss and Bill Sharman — also helped him get back on track. They sent him to Italy to continue his professional career and get his mind and body in order. And according to him, “Italy was the best thing that ever happened to me.”