Standing at center court and watching your jersey as it’s raised into the rafters must be one of the greatest feelings for a professional basketball player. This honor eternally cements his or her legacy with the organization and city. Glancing at the extensive resume of Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, this accolade is well deserved as the Houston Rockets will formally retire his no. 44 jersey during the halftime show in the match against the Indiana Pacers on November 18 at the Toyota Center.
For Hayes, who grew up in the segregated southern town of Rayville, Louisiana, basketball was an escape and his catalyst to better opportunities. A critical asset to his team at the University of Houston, in the cougar uniform is where he would acquire the nickname “The Big E''—a result of his success scoring points and his perfected turnaround jumper. With the first pick in the 1968 NBA draft, the then San Diego Rockets drafted Hayes with the hopes of his star power leading them in a playoff run.
During his tenure with the team, he set the NBA rookie record for the most minutes played in a breakout season with 3,695, and was noted as the last rookie to lead the league in scoring with an average of 28.4 points. With the relocation of the team from the West Coast to down South in 1971, Hayes led the Rockets franchise in scoring and rebounding during their inaugural season in the Bayou City. The talented power forward would play a total of four seasons with the team until he was traded to the former Baltimore Bullets in 1972. He led the team during their transitional move to Washington, to three Finals appearances in 1975, 1978, and 1979, where they won the title against the Seattle Supersonics.
Hayes made his grand return to the city of Houston via trade from the Washington Bullets in 1981, later finishing his 16-year career at the age of 36 in 1984. The 12-time All-Star would have his jersey no.11 retired by Washington in 1981 and nine years later in 1990, he would be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Representing the Rockets and the city of Houston has meant so much to me throughout my life,” said Hayes during the jersey retirement announcement from Rockets owner Tilman J. Fertitta.
As one of the original basketball stars of the city, Big E joins other prominent Rockets legends such as Clyde Drexler, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Yao Ming with this distinguished accomplishment.
Tickets for the Evin Hayes jersey retirement night are now available for purchase here.