Walt Hazzard (left), pictured with Reggie Miller, will be known as a great basketball player and coach, but he took it upon himself to lead young people in a direction of success. Photo by Paul Chinn (LAPL Herald-Examiner Collection)
In 1964, Hazzard led UCLA to its first title under John Wooden. He was named college basketball’s player of the year, and he was the NCAA tournament’s most valuable player. That same year he led the U.S. team to a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics.
Hazzard was a legend in the basketball world, but for those that knew him, he was an even greater person off the court.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Walt Hazzard was best known for what he did on the court, but his greatness laid off of it. He was the leader of the first John Wooden UCLA basketball team to win an NCAA championship, but he took greater pride in helping others succeed in life.
Hazzard helped the U.S. team win the gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but being a leader in his community was the legacy that he wanted to leave.
Hazzard played in the NBA and coached UCLA’s basketball team in the mid 1980s, but being a great family man to his wife and four sons was where his heart was.
Hazzard worked hard to make a difference on the court, but he felt it was just as important to make a difference off of it.
“As a leader you have a responsibility to use your celebrity and your means to impact the society for the good,” his wife Jaleesa said. “The thing that everybody will always remember about him here in Los Angeles, besides basketball, is that he was always a community activist. He was always interested in what was going on in the African American communities, as well as all communities. Especially when it came to education.”
While students at UCLA and afterwards, Walt and Jaleesa were active in the civil rights movement, and supported Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (when he came to Los Angeles). Hazzard felt that as an athlete, he had to know the world. That he could not hide behind sports, or think that he lived in a different world. He knew that he lived in the real world, and that he could make a difference.
While coaching at UCLA, Hazzard saw a major need that needed to be fulfilled.
“One of his issues while he was coaching was that kids who could play ball weren’t eligible for the UC, academically,” Jaleesa said. “In a certain sense he couldn’t be successful recruiting here at home because he couldn’t at times find enough students who, especially from the inner city, who were academically able to go to a UC.”
Hazzard did not sit back and let this problem continue. He partnered with the 100 Black Men to create the Young Black Scholars, which is an organization that helps increase the number of African American and other minority high school students who are academically and competitively prepared for college and university admissions.
Hazzard took this community service outreach one step further when he co-founded the Los Angeles Sports Academy at Audubon Middle School with fellow UCLA alum Winston Churchill Doby, who also recently passed away.
“What he learned about young black scholars was that a lot of kids are leaving kids at middle school,” Jaleesa said. “They would never get to high school where they could be young black scholars. So it was really about changing the kids’ performance academically in key subjects by using their love of sports. They developed a curriculum that a teacher could use. If it was math, it was take your favorite Laker and compute his averages over an entire season.”
Hazzard spent countless hours helping young people become productive adults, but the children that he spent the most time with were his own.
“He was a full-on hands-on dad,” Jaleesa said. “I never had to give him instructions. I could walk out the door from the times that the kids were babies and just leave him with the kids, because he knew what to do. And he really enjoyed his time with the kids. When he was working, he was working, but when he was home, he was all theirs.”
His sons Yakub, Jalal, Khalil, and Rasheed all greatly appreciated having their father’s guidance.
“My dad, just as a father, he was an incredible dad,” Khalil said. “We’ve always had people in and out of the house growing up. There were always people staying with us or coming by. He took care of everybody. That’s just the kind of person he was. Very generous. Not with just his own kids, but with everybody.”
Basketball was a major part of the Hazzard household, but there were much more important lessons being taught.
“He was always a teacher,” Khalil said. “He obviously taught us the game, but he also taught us how to be a man.”
Rasheed had similar sentiments as Khalil.
“He was most proud of us being great students and great leaders in our community,” Rasheed said. “And anything that we did athletically, that was just icing on the cake. My dad first and foremost, he wanted to raise four great men. And I think he did that. He laid the foundation by the example that he set and by the high standards that he set.”
As Hazzard was developing his sons to be great men, he was also teaching them that giving back to the younger generations was of great importance.
“The most important thing I think my dad taught me was that the greatest investment that he said that he ever made was in young people,” Rasheed said. “Mentoring young people. I think if there is any legacy outside of basketball and any legacy outside of being a father and a man, was that he was all about helping others achieve greatness, and being on the path to success. There was nothing he enjoyed more than seeing other people have their successes and their happiness in what ever they wanted to do,”
As for Hazzard’s greatness on the court, he was the co-captain of UCLA’s 1964 team that went 30-0. He averaged 18.6 points per game as a senior guard, and he was chosen as college basketball’s player of the year after averaging 19.8 points per game in the NCAA tournament, where he was named the most valuable player.
Bobby Pounds, who played for Wooden at UCLA from 1950-52, said that Hazzard was an inspiration and a hero, and that Hazzard helped put UCLA on the map. He also said that without Hazzard to kick off the Wooden championship era, UCLA would be no different from Cal State LA in terms of basketball.
In 1996, Hazzard’s No. 42 jersey was retired by UCLA.
Hazzard averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game during his NBA career with the Lakers, Seattle, Atlanta, Buffalo and Golden State. In 1968 he appeared in the NBA’s All-Star game after averaging 23.9 points and 6.2 assists per game.
Hazard coached UCLA for four years, leading them to a 77-47 record. In 1985, he led UCLA to their first NIT championship, and in 1987, he led them to a Pac-10 title with Reggie Miller as the star player of the team.
Hazzard also coached two seasons each at Compton College and Chapman College in Orange County.
In 1994, Hazzard was hired by the Lakers as a West Coast advance scout. After having a stroke in 1996, Hazzard served as a special consultant to the team for another 15 years, and he never missed a game.
Check out the Sentinel Sports Section on Facebook and Twitter.
Sentinel Sports Section Facebook page:
Sentinel Sports Twitter page: