Fans of the Maitland Mustangs have heard it before but this time Butch Hays says it’s for real.
After a lifetime on the court, which started in the US and finished in Maitland via Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls and the Newcastle Falcons, Hays has decided to call it a day and retire from playing basketball.
“I’m done,” Hays told the Maitland Mercury.
“I know I’ve said that [about retirement] over and over again but it’s because I love the sport, I love the game and I love the camaraderie.
“That is probably why I’ve continued to keep playing and my dad always said to play as long as you feel good.
“And I still feel good, but it’s time to stop.”
The 50-year-old, who has been with the Mustangs for the last decade after more than 10 years in the National Basketball League, underwent an arthroscopy last week to clean up soft and hard tissue damage in his knee.
This has given Hays, known as Mr Basketball of the Hunter Valley, renewed vigour in his step and while doctors gave him a positive prognosis the experienced campaigner has other things on his mind.
“I really wish I did it two years ago because I think I could have produced a bit better for the Mustangs the last two years,” he said.
“But it’s done now and I’m jumping out of the gym and dunking again. They said I have another 15,000 km left in those knees.
“Now that I’ve got cleaned, washed knees I know I could still probably play, but I’m saving these knees for grandkids and old age.
“That’s it and it’s great to be going out with both my knees working and with all my fingers still straight, not crooked.”
For Hays, the basketball journey began as a 12-year-old on the streets of Los Angeles – South Central to be exact on West 75th Street.
“A neighbour of mine introduced me to basketball and we always played on the streets of LA [Los Angeles], but formal training didn’t happen until I was 13,” he said.
“I did a lot of sport – athletics, American football and baseball – but basketball is what really stuck.”
Hays was brought up in an area known for neighbourhood gangs but this hard edge approach carried on court and served him well in years to come.
“We were in between the neighbourhood gangs, the Bloods and the Crypts, that was where I was based,” he said.
“Several times we’d be playing pick up ball and if somebody didn’t like a call that’s made or they didn’t like losing, they would pull out a gun. We would all scatter and jump over fences and under cars.
“But the street ball made you tough and made you play every shot.
“If you are playing pick up ball and you lose you may not get on the court again that day or it might take two or three hours before your turn comes up.
So it was all about making the best of a moment and if your team was on the court you are playing to win.”
Hays then progressed to high school and became an all-American player before receiving a scholarship with the University of California, Berkeley.
He finished his four years of college ball as the all-time assist leader, only to be since overtaken by Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnston.
From there Hays was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and as rookies roomed with superstar Michael Jordan.
“I was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Chicago Bulls but they drafted three guards that year, unfortunately one of them was Michael Jordan,” Hays said.
“But that was pretty cool, we were roommates, rookies and we lived together for about six months before I was cut and released from my contract.”
Hays moved Down Under in the early 1990s and after two-year stints in the National Basketball League with Adelaide and Wollongong, he landed in the Hunter and played with the Newcastle Falcons.
More recently, home has been Maitland and Hays played as well as coached the Mustangs in the Waratah Championships League.
“The majority of my basketball outside of the NBL has been in Maitland,” Hays said.
“I’ve been with Maitland now about 12 years and I just love it there.
“It’s a great club, a great family organisation, and I’ve played with some great players there.
“I think it’s the way they make you feel being part of them, even though I wasn’t born or lived in Maitland, I was always considered a ‘Maitland-ite’.”
In 2010 it was Hays that went within millimetres of helping Maitland clinch a championship.
“We’ve had some tough seasons and we’ve had some great seasons,” he said.
“Two years ago, when we were in the grand final, we were just a three-pointer away and I had that shot to tie us up but it went in and out.
“But win, lose or draw the guys have always been close and stayed together.”
Hays, who has just started his own welfare organisation for disadvantaged people, said he was looking forward to helping out the Mustangs in a coaching role with new mentor Dave Richards.
But as for turning 50 in 2012, Hays simply took it all in his stride.
“It wasn’t a really big deal,” he said. “I feel great – and 50 didn’t feel like 50 should feel, it felt more like 30.”