Bittersweet feelings flooded Walt Hazzard as he walked into Pauley Pavilion to join Marques Johnson, Sydney Wicks and Ed O’Bannon in having their UCLA basketball jerseys retired Thursday night.
Hazzard’s greatest moments as a player didn’t occur in the Bruins’ current home, which opened in June 1965 - a season after he helped UCLA to its first NCAA title and 30-0 season in 1964.
But his worst moment did. Hired as UCLA’s head coach in 1984, he was fired after his team went 25-7 in the 1986-87 season.
Never mind that he won the Pac-10 Conference title in his final season, the NIT championship the year before and had a 77-47 record over four years.
Wicks, a volunteer assistant for Hazzard, was swept away, too.
Hazzard nursed his bitterness by avoiding the program that once meant so much to him. Then, last season, he turned up at the airport to welcome home UCLA’s first national title team in 20 years.
Having his No. 42 jersey retired brought Hazzard back to the family fold.
“This will heal some wounds for me because my last encounter in this building was not the happiest moment for me and neither for Sydney,” Hazzard said. “It’s taken a while for me to try and rekindle the flame and the feeling for this program, and maybe this will help. I’ll give it a try.”
Hazzard was a three-year starter under coach John Wooden from 1962-64. As a senior, he helped start UCLA’s run of 10 championships in 12 years with the 30-0 season that culminated in a national title.
Hazzard, from Philadelphia, made the cross country journey because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his childhood idol Jackie Robinson, who attended UCLA. Robinson wore No. 42 with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, so Hazzard requested the same number for his college uniform.
“I grew up idolizing him, walking pigeon-toed,” he said. “The fact that Jackie Robinson was associated with UCLA was more important to me than John Wooden being the basketball coach.”
If Hazzard was just another face in a parade of failed coaches after Wooden, he is among select company in having his jersey retired.
Six years ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton were the first men to receive the honor.
To qualify at UCLA, a player must be a three-time All-American or receive a national player of the year honor.
“It’s an elite group. How many schools can say they’ve had this many players of the year?” Hazzard said. “It’s a tremendous standard. It’s UCLA.”
Wicks, Johnson and O’Bannon are all Los Angeles natives who made good in their hometown.
Wicks, No. 35, was instrumental in leading UCLA to three straight NCAA titles under Wooden.
Johnson was a starting forward as a sophomore in 1975 during Wooden’s final season, when the Bruins won their 10th NCAA title.
O’Bannon proved the most popular among the four honorees, with fans giving him the loudest applause and then swamping him for autographs and pictures.
Now a struggling rookie with the New Jersey Nets, he returned to Pauley for the first time since concluding a five-year career by leading UCLA over Arkansas in last season’s title game.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.