In light of all the problems and struggles that UCLA’s marquee sports program has had so far this college basketball season, what with the team having won only two of its first seven games, their best player being suspended – again – for being such a head case and acting like a spoiled eight-year old boy who pouts and throws tantrums in the playground when he doesn’t get his way, and another key player looking – and playing – more like Fat Albert by the day…
I thought Bruin Nation could use some cheering up, so I’ve decided to make a list that will remind everyone that there’s a reason why UCLA is considered one of the top basketball programs in America, if not the best; that there’s a reason why there are a NCAA-leading 11 national championship banners hanging in the Los Angeles Sports Arena (and in the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion in the fall of 2012).
I won’t waste anymore time: here’s my list of the top ten players to ever wear the four letters U-C-L-A on a basketball court, in descending order:
10. DON BARKSDALE – A standout in the pre-John Wooden World War II years, Barksdale could be called basketball’s equivalent to Jackie Robinson as he as the first African American to make the All-America team, the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic basketball team, and the first African American to play in the NBA All-Star game.
Those pioneering exploits alone merits his inclusion on this list.
9. ED O’ BANNON – Was the leader on UCLA’s last national championship team in 1995, as he led the Bruins to a 32-2 mark, a school record for wins, leading the team in scoring and rebounding, winning the John Wooden Award – college basketball’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy – and having his #31 jersey retired.
Oh, and the fact that he has recently returned to UCLA to complete his degree is another big plus.
8. GAIL GOODRICH – One of the stalwarts on John Wooden’s teams in the mid-1960s at shooting guard, Goodrich helped start the Bruin dynasty by leading the team in scoring during their first two championship years in 1964 and 1965. He also had a solid 14-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and has had his jersey retired by them and UCLA.
7. DON MACLEAN – The Bruins’ all-time leading scorer with a total of 2,608 points, averaging 20.5 points a game from 1989-1992, the forward was clearly UCLA’s best player during those years.
And he’s a pretty good commentator for Fox Sports today, settling into that role after his playing days were over.
6. SIDNEY WICKS – This free spirited forward was a main cog on three straight Bruin title teams in 1969, 1970, and 1971, making him an important part of a UCLA dynasty that saw the Bruins win seven straight NCAA championships and ten titles overall in a 12-year span from 1964 through 1975.
Wicks also led the team in scoring and rebounding in ’70 and ’71, was in the NBA for ten years, winning Rookie of the Year honors with Portland in 1972, and had his #35 jersey retired.
5. WALT HAZZARD – This flashy point guard from Philadelphia, who recently passed away, was the leader on Wooden’s first championship team in 1964, as well as being a two-time All-American and being on the Bruins’ first Final Four team in 1962.
After his triumphs in Westwood, he led the U.S. basketball team to a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, then he played in the NBA for ten years before serving as UCLA’s coach from 1984 to 1988.
4. MARQUES JOHNSON – Was the first winner of the John Wooden Award in 1977, after a Bruin career that saw him play on Wooden’s last title team in 1975 and finish in the top ten in rebounds, field goal percentage, and field goals scored.
The forward played in the NBA for a decade with Milwaukee, winning all-league honors numerous times, and has enjoyed a good career in broadcasting and commentating, having his #54 jersey retired by UCLA.
3. REGGIE MILLER – Outside of the number one player on this list, this forward has had the best NBA career of any Bruin as he is not only the Indiana Pacers’ all-time scoring leader, he has also made more three-point baskets than anyone in NBA history.
Only two players have scored more career points than him while in Westwood, as he is one of only four Bruins to pass the 2,000 point mark. Although he only won an NIT championship in 1985, Miller is clearly UCLA’s best player of the 1980s, finishing in the all-time top ten in field goal attempts and percentage, baskets made, and is third in three-point field goal percentage.
2. BILL WALTON – This big redhead, who liked to do his own thing as he was a Grateful Dead follower among other things, was a dominant center of the 1970’s as he was a three-time consensus All-American from 1972-1974, a Player of the Year, led the Bruins to back-to-back 30-0 seasons, and is famous for his 44-point performance on 21-of-22 shooting against Memphis in the 1973 NCAA Finals.
As a Bruin, he had more rebounds than anyone who played in Westwood, averaging 15.7 boards a game, had the second highest career field goal percentage at .651, and finished fourth all-time with 747 baskets made.
His career in the NBA, which saw him win two titles with Portland in 1977 and the Boston Celtics in 1986 after he was picked first overall in ’74, was solid as he was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, but would have been even better if he had been more physically sound, as injuries to his feet and legs significantly slowed him down; I consider him the Mickey Mantle of basketball in that regard.
Having his #32 jersey retired in 1990, I would most likely rate Bill Walton as the best basketball player in UCLA history if not for this man…
1. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR – Until Michael Jordan came along, this legend formally known as Lew Alcindor was considered the best player to ever grace a basketball court.
And even with Jordan people debate on who’s the all-time best with this man.
The statistics and accolades of Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970, are many and could be an article all by itself; let’s just tackle his resume head on:
While in Westwood, he not only led the Bruins to three straight titles at center from 1967-1969, but was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four all three times he was there, and won College Player of the Year and consensus All-American thrice in that span as well.
As a Bruin, no one had a higher scoring average than him – 26.4. Only Don Maclean scored more points than his 2,325, only Bill Walton grabbed more rebounds than his 1,367, and only Walton and Jelani McCoy had a higher field goal percentage than his .639.
His dominance was so total that the NCAA issued a no-dunk rule during Jabbar/Alcindor’s years there, to try and make things less ridiculous.
As great as Kareem’s UCLA days were, it was in the NBA where he became a legend as he merely scored more points than anyone in the history of the game, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record in 1984 and finishing with 38,387 points while, along with Magic Johnson, leading the “Showtime” Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s after being selected first overall with the Milwaukee Bucks in ’69 and winning a championship with them in 1971, ending with a 20-year career in the league.
Oh, and of course Kareem had his #33 jersey retired by both the Lakers and UCLA and is a Hall of Famer, not only being elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 but also honored with charter membership in the UCLA Hall of Fame, being inducted there in 1984.
Outside of Jordan, I dare anyone to name a basketball player better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And for all you fans of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, you need to wait until their careers are over to include them in the same paragraph as this true legend.
There you have it – my list of the top ten UCLA Bruins to ever grace a basketball court.
I completely understand that there are many other outstanding players to have played in Pauley Pavilion over the years, but if I mentioned them all in this article, it would be over 3,000 words and would take several days to write.
Hopefully this will help to keep your spirits up, or at least provide you with some comforting memories, as the current edition of this team tries to raise themselves from the dead and live up to the great legacy that these ten men have left for them.