The Rockets will retire jersey No. 44 in honor of legendary Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes during halftime of Houston’s game against Indiana on November 18, the team announced.
Hayes, also known as “The Big E,” was a star in college for the University of Houston, averaging 31.0 points and 17.2 rebounds across his four seasons with the Cougars. The Rockets, then in San Diego, selected Hayes’ No. 1 overall in the 1968 draft, and he promptly led the league in scoring (28.4 points, plus 17.1 rebounds). He’s the last rookie to accomplish the feat.
“We are thrilled to celebrate Elvin Hayes’ stellar career by retiring his jersey,” said Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. “Elvin was the original basketball superstar in the City of Houston and has a lasting legacy with not only the NBA and the Rockets, but the University of Houston as well. We’re excited to honor Elvin and his family this November and see his jersey hang where it belongs, alongside the other legends from our franchise’s storied history.”
Hayes will become the seventh Rockets player to have his number retired, joining fellow Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Yao Ming, Clyde Drexler, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Calvin Murphy. Hayes played alongside both Tomjanovich and Murphy on the Rockets.
“Representing the Rockets and the City of Houston has meant so much to me throughout my life,” said Hayes. “Knowing that my number will stand with the other great players in franchise history is truly an honor. I want to thank Tilman and the Fertitta family, along with the Rockets organization, and most importantly the fans for the love they have shown me throughout my playing career and beyond. I look forward to celebrating this special moment with all of you in November.”
A 12-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA member, Hayes was selected as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996 and earned a berth on the 75th anniversary team last season. He started and ended his career with the Rockets, averaging 27.4 points and 16.3 boards over his first four seasons.
An incredibly durable player, he missed just nine games across 16 seasons, never playing fewer than 80 games. Hayes is one of only four players to hold career averages of at least 21 points and 12 rebounds, with the others being Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Pettit, per the press release.
As Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscriber link) writes, Hayes was Fertitta’s favorite player growing up and surprised Hayes last week in a meeting to inform him of the plan to celebrate the team’s 55th anniversary, which includes throwback a throwback green jersey from the San Diego days.
“I am really so happy,” Hayes said. “I really, really had no idea. I went to the games. I really enjoy going to the games and visiting with the Rockets and players, working with the organization. It was really an honor when I was called, and this happened. I was just really shocked.”
Hayes will be honored the day after his 77th birthday, Feigen notes. In addition to his time with the Rockets, Hayes made three Finals appearances with the Washington Bullets, including a championship in 1978. Washington retired his No. 11 in 1981, so he’ll join a short list of players who’ve had their numbers retired by multiple teams.