One of the great satisfactions I have derived from the time I have spent here on Bruins Nation is the friends I have made outside of the back and forth of online comments. I am proud to say I have met a fair number of you 'in real life.' Class of '66 jumps immediately to mind because we have tailgated together a handful of times. I met BritishBruin through '66. I met UCLALUV on campus when she signed the original SFatPauley petition to return students to sideline seating at Pauley . I met UCLAFAN11 in Knoxville when I took a Volunteer up on his offer and flew out for the game on very short notice and without a flight back even booked.
During the original SFatPauley campaign I had the good fortune of receiving an email from one of Coach Wooden's players, thanking me for our efforts. I wrote back, to confirm he was who I thought he was, and to ask if I could go public with his name. He agreed, and we have since traded the occasional email.
Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a memorial service for the great Walt Hazzard. A packed house at the Wilshire Ebell Theater came to honor the life and legend of perhaps the second most "significant" Bruin in the history of this storied program...right behind Coach John Wooden. Walt Hazzard was the man who brought just that little bit of
extra flash, that inner city grit, that allowed him to put that first national championship team on his back and take them to a 30-0 season.
For those of us lucky to have first hand memories of that magical year, it was a time before UCLA was considered a real national power. But the combination of speed and teamwork on display was breathtaking. Walt Hazzard was the spark that lit the flame of Bruin basketball.
Kenny Washington, Mike Warren, Keith Erickson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all spoke movingly and eloquently. Keith read a touching letter from Gail Goodrich...the other half of perhaps the greatest backcourt in Bruin history. To see and hear these Bruin Hall of Famers step to the microphone and speak with poise and confidence was just a reminder of
that extra ingredient that we came to expect from our star athletes...they were scholar athletes...men who made us all proud of the letters on the uniform; U.C.L.A.
A couple of Bruins who played for Coach Hazzard, Brad Wright and Gerald Madkins, gave us all a sense of how special it was to be a part of Walt's family.
The turnout of former Bruins was remarkable. I didn't go to take notes or write a story, so I'm sure I didn't see dozens of other players. But I did see Bill Walton, Kiki Vandeweghe, Lucius Allen, Gary Cunningham, Eddie Sheldrake, Jim Harrick and Sidney Wicks. Luminaries were everywhere. Phil Jackson was in the front row. Jerry West gave a speech. President Obama sent a wonderful letter, and there were representatives from seemingly every elected official in Southern California. I was lucky enough to sit next to Hall of Famer Bill Sharman,. There were even performances by Les McCann and Billy Childs to honor Walt's love of music. I almost left out Walt's best friend from Overbrook and fellow NBA star Wali Jones.
But if you could say there was a true star of the day, it was the extended Hazzard Family. Four impressive and articulate sons, two beautiful sisters, countless cousins and grandkids...all part of the Hazzard Family. His marriage to Jaleesa was the sort of bond we do not see much in our world any more...like John and Nellie...this was a "team" in the best sense of the word. Though emotions were always near the surface as the Hazzard's and the entire Bruin family mourns the loss of my very first sports hero (Walt was my student teacher at Emerson Junior High School...and I was in awe)...it was in fact a celebration of a life that was about teaching and giving, loving and being loved in return.
Hope this gives you just a small idea of what it was like. No doubt I've left out half the highlights. But amidst all the whining and complaining that often dominates the conversation in these dark days of Bruin football and basketball...let's take a moment to bask in the light that Walt Hazzard lit for us all. So many of our greatest
memories in life started when an old school coach from Indiana brought a flashy, inner city guard out to Westwood and these two men lit the flame of what became the greatest dynasty in the history of sports. We were all lucky to have those memories...and to be reminded of why it will always be special to be a U.C.L.A. Bruin.
Walt Hazzard...a great man...and a great Bruin. There was no one like him. He will be missed.