A private service for Walt Hazzard, 69, was held in Whittier Tuesday, approximately four days after his death Friday at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. The university and the family are also planning a public memorial around the first week of December.
Hazzard, along with backcourt mate Gail Goodrich, helped UCLA coach John Wooden launch a string of NCAA men’s basketball championships when it won its first in 1964.
“Walt was one of the pillars of UCLA’s first championship team in men’s basketball,” said Ben Howland, the school’s men’s basketball coach. “He was a great player and an outstanding coach at UCLA. He is a huge part of the Bruin legacy, and he left lifelong memories for the Bruin faithful.
We will all miss Walt, and we send our love to his family.”
Death came to Hazzard at the place where he was most beloved and familiar, and where he returned after his professional basketball career to coach. It is also where he met his wife-to-be, Jaleesa, then a cheerleader. Hazzard suffered a stroke in 1996 and had open-heart surgery shortly after.
Born Walter Raphael Hazzard Jr. in Wilmington, Del., on April 15, 1942, the son of a Methodist minister, he would later change his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman after his conversion to Islam.
But Hazzard eventually resumed the use of his given name after finding that the change had negative effects on his professional career, both on and off the court. However, he clung to his Muslim faith.
Hazzard was a winner wherever he competed–in high school, college, the Olympics, as a professional and as a coach. Hazzard attended Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, Pa., where he was a standout player in both basketball and track. His basketball team had a record of 89-3, won two city championships, and he was named the city’s player of the year in his senior year.
Hazzard transferred to UCLA after a season at Santa Monica City College, bringing to the school remarkable ball-handling and passing skills. As a junior, he earned All-America honors from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and led the team with his 16.3 scoring average. But in 1964, his senior year, he took his team to the pinnacle, achieving the NCAA championship.
Hazzard was selected to the U.S. Olympic team in the summer of 1964, helping the nation win a gold medal in Tokyo.
The playmaking guard was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers that same year and remained with the team three seasons. In all, he played professionally for 10 years, with the Lakers, Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo and Golden State. He would later return to the Lakers as a consultant.
Rounding out his basketball career two decades after achieving his greatest fame as a Bruin, Hazzard followed in the footsteps of Wooden by taking over the reigns of the team. He remained there four seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament in 1987 when he was named Pac 10 Conference Coach of the Year.
Last month, Hazzard was honored by the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles Inc. with the Lifetime Achievement Award.