Obit of the Day: When Hazzard Met the Wizard
When Walt Hazzard took the court for the UCLA Bruins for the first time as a sophomore (he was a transfer from Santa Monica College), there was no storied past for the university. No titles to speak of, three NCAA appearances over the previous twelve years, and his coach, John Wooden, had done little to make himself a legend. But Hazzard’s point guard play was a key in transforming UCLA from just another basketball program into THE basketball program of the 1960s and 1970s.
Hazzard, a Philadelphia native, led the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA appearances including the school’s first Final Four appearance in 1963 and first NCAA championship in 1964. During that championship season Hazzard was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, averaging 18.7 points per game during the season and 19.7 during the tournament. UCLA retired Hazzard’s number 42 in 1996.
Note: After Hazzard graduated John Wooden would coach the Bruins to eleven more NCAA championships including seven in a row from 1966 to 1973. His astounding success earned him the nickname, “The Wizard of Westwood.” He died at the age of 100 in 2010.
Success in the NBA was a bit more elusive for Hazzard. Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers as the number one overall pick in 1964, Hazzard averaged a little over twelve points per game during ten seasons that found him bouncing around to Buffalo, Seattle, Atlanta, and San Francisco (home of the Golden State Warriors). Prior to the 1972-1973 season* Hazzard changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman as a public reminder of his dedication to Islam. (Lew Alcindor, another UCLA legend changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of the 1970-1971 season.) Hazzard claimed that his name change harmed his career. To be fair, Hazzard had played eight mediocre seasons and would last only two more, while Abdul-Jabbar would go on to win five more championships and four more MVP awards after his name change. Hazzard would remain a devout Muslim but used his birth name more often.
Hazzard went into coaching following his career and even returned to the court at Paulie Pavilion to lead his alma mater. During his four seasons at UCLA Hazzard finished 77-47 with one trip to the NCAA tournament at the end of the 1986-1987 season. That team finished 25-7 and was ranked fifteen in the final AP poll. As Wooden was helped by Hazzard, Hazzard was helped by Reggie Miller, the NBA’s greatest three-point shooter of all time and currently a television analyst.
Walt Hazzard suffered a stroke in 1996 and dealt with myriad health problems over the next decade and a half. He died on November 18, 2011 at the age of 69.
*I could not find the exact date of Hazzard name change so I used basketball cards as my best attempt to figure out the timeline.
(Image is copyright of the Associated Press, 1962, and courtesy of the LA Times.)