Houston’s great Elvin Hayes is delighted to step down from the Rockets jersey

Elvin Hayes walked into the Toyota Center on Friday, as he does at almost every Rockets home game, but this time surrounded by the colors that represented his youth.

Before the Houstonians had an NBA team to call their own, and before Hayes — a Louisian native who became a star at the University of Houston — returned to represent his adopted hometown, the future Hall of Fame centered on a young franchise and attracted green and gold.

“Well I’m telling you, seeing the green and gold was really awesome because it gave me an opportunity to learn about and recognize my first career (season) in NBA history,” Hayes said. “And knowing the Rockets’ then-owner, Bob Breitbard, really gave me a feeling because I was able to set a lot of records in my first year in San Diego. And then being a part of that and seeing those colors really brought back a lot of memories.”

During Friday’s game against the Pacers, the Rockets officially retired Hayes’ #44 jersey and debuted their San Diego Hardwood Classics jerseys, a nod to the franchise’s West Coast beginnings in 1967.

Hayes was the team’s #1 draft pick in 1968 and led the Rockets to the playoffs as a rookie as the NBA’s top scorer. He stayed with the Rockets for the team’s move to Houston and then returned to finish his career in Houston after stints in Baltimore and Washington.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas said his first memories of Hayes were of on-court matchups against his father, former NBA player Paul Silas.

“When my dad was playing 78-79 for the Seattle SuperSonics, they were playing the (Washington) Bullets and Elvin Hayes was like the best player in the Bullets,” Silas said. “He and my dad were matched, so Big E was someone I didn’t really like. My dad would elbow him and he would knock him back and they traded championships. But what he’s done, not just for the NBA as one of the greatest players of all time, but for this organization — I mean, he’s in every game. I see him and he gives me a fist pound and says, ‘Hold on.’ He’s an all-time great.”

Now Hayes’ jersey will hang in the rafters forever, joining former Rockets players Clyde Drexler, Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Rudy Tomjanovich and Yao Ming.

“To receive this tonight is probably one of the greatest honors,” Hayes said. “I have received many honors in the game of basketball. But this one is really super awesome because it’s in Houston, where it all started for me at the University of Houston, then went to San Diego and then became part of the Houston Rockets again. It’s really a great honor and a great opportunity for me to be able to have this night now.”

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