Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has said that his two favourite basketball players are the greatest Raptor of all-time and, also, Kyle Lowry. Daryl Morey and I both think really highly of Chuck Hayes.
But who is Hayes? He’s a 36-year-old, 6’6” power forward (and sometime centre), listed at 240 pounds, who joined the league in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. It all sounds unremarkable, until you stop back and realize Hayes spent a decade in the NBA, putting in time with three teams — including the Toronto Raptors. If nothing else, Hayes developed a following as a stout post defender and steady veteran presence. He wasn’t really meant for the modern NBA, but that’s OK: he was probably cool with that.
(And yes, so I won’t get any hate mail: for the record, Lowry is the greatest Raptor of all-time.)
His Raptors Run
The 6’6” centre was part of the best accident in Raptors history. On December 8, 2013, Toronto said goodbye to Rudy Gay, and said hello to John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Sir Chuck Hayes.
Now, of that group Vasquez probably created the most memories while in Toronto, Patterson probably had the most impact, and Salmons’ arrival had the most narrative resonance (the team almost signed him at his peak years ago), but Hayes was perhaps the most consistent. In 74 games across two seasons, Hayes never averaged more than 2.2 points per game for Toronto, and topped out somewhere around ten minutes per game. Yet there was little doubt what would happen when Hayes checked in for the Raptors. He’d just get to work.
(For example: We’d be remiss in not specifically mentioning the time Hayes came in as the Marc Gasol stopper in a game against Memphis back in 2014. He did the job as best he could that night to slow Gasol, and Toronto won.)
In any case, if not for the Lowry trade to the Knicks not happening a little later that season, we don’t have a playoff run, a championship, and, you know, all this. The Gay trade and the aforementioned foursome created a ton of Raptors memories, regardless of how you feel about individual components of that trade now. While Hayes’ part was smaller, it was still valuable to the Raptors at the time.
The Wikipedia Fun-Fact Deep Dive
Did you know Hayes led the 2003 USA Pan-American Games team in rebounds per game with 7.6?
He sure did! The team went 2-3.
All right, we need to salvage the deep dive. To do that, I’d like to discuss one of my favourite Raptors moments ever.
Let me set the scene. The shot clock is winding down in Game 5 of the 2014 Raptors-Nets series. The Air Canada Centre court still has that weird 3D-printing thing along the ends — and Chuck Hayes has the ball outside the 3-point line. For whatever reason, John Salmons gave it to him out there. The score is 33-31.
And boom. Hayes hits what “-chase” in the comments calls a “deep floater.” I contend that, aside from the obvious answer, this is one of the greatest shots in Toronto Raptors history. The Raptors tied the game on this, and then went on to go up by as many as 26 in the third. It was an all-around great performance by the Raptors.
But then, naturally, it slipped away. At the end of three, the Raptors were up 91-69 on the Nets. But then, somehow, Brooklyn put 44 on the board in the 4th to the Raptors’ 24. It was an unnecessarily tense game. If you check the math, however, that scoring output meant the Raptors would go on to win Game 5 by two. In other words, the Raptors won on a Chuck Hayes deep floater early in the second quarter. That’s history.
Now, this was not the Hayes we knew. We knew the weird hitch free throw he had (Hayes hit 2-of-2 from the line in that game) and we knew the short but bruising centre he was. The deep floater? Pure happenstance, and it won the Raptors the game.
Of course, the Raptors did go on to lose the series. But they wouldn't have gone to Brooklyn with a chance to take it, if not for the man, the myth, the mystery that was Chuck Hayes.
Where Are They Now?
It’s right there on his Wikipedia page. Chuck Hayes, the short but big centre, who was sort of and kind of an anomaly for the NBA throughout his career, is developing players.
Hayes has spent the last couple of seasons as a player-development coach for the Denver Nuggets. Given how he carved out his niche in the league, how he became an NBA player, this man knows what it takes. I’d take lessons from him. Sign me up. I miss you, Chuck Hayes.