Anyway, does it matter, this winning of games? Of course, for the
moment, for the glory, for the fun of it, it is somewhat better
than losing games. But does it count in the way that coaches --
most of them, at least -- swear that it does? Does it add to the
quality of life, make for better Americans?
For those who are in the fray, it seems that if you do win,
victory itself does not remain as cherished as the trying. You win
only as a way to validate effort, to justify the foolishness of
that grand contradiction, playing hard. Anyway. . . .
UCLA basketball is now synonymous with victory. In the fall of
1963, however, UCLA had never won a national title, and John
Wooden was an unassuming fellow who had been kicking around for
years. The team had a 6 5" center. There was only one bona fide
star, and he was a passer, not a big man or a big scorer. The
Bruins were unranked.
Then they went undefeated, 30-0, whipping Duke in the NCAA
championship game. That started the whole business. UCLA repeated
the next year, and then Lew Alcindor came across the country and
enrolled. Very quickly the Bruins became what is called a dynasty
and Wooden a legend in his own time.
There were seven regulars on the '64 club. There was no dominant
player. They all figured in the action. They pressed all over the
court, and they needed each other to get the job done. The '64
Bruins were as good at playing as a team as any club you'll ever
They were, too, quite different from one another. ``They really
didn't get along that well except on the court,'' Wooden recalls.
They came from all over. Gail Goodrich, the team's leading scorer,
was the only one who had spent his whole life in Southern
California. One had been a high school star in Kansas, although he
was a native Californian; a couple were country boys from Kentucky
and South Carolina; there was a Jewish kid who had grown up in
Brooklyn; and there was Walt Hazzard, the street-smart reverend's
son from Philly. One Bruin was married. Two or three drank beer.
There were three seniors, two juniors, two sophs; three blacks,
four whites. Only a couple of them had been heavily recruited.
None had ever heard of Madame Nhu or Ho Chi Minh. One of them fell
in love with a cheerleader that winter.
A lot of people thought we were cocky, but Wooden told us: ``Be
confident, not cocky.'' We knew we were going to win. But you have
to experience defeat to really understand victory. The year
before, we lost seven games by something like 20 points. Having
had that year made the winning experience better.
-- GAIL GOODRICH, shooter
Goodrich could always shoot it; he's a lefty, durable. He grew
late. He was barely five feet tall in junior high, and he was only
5 8", 120 pounds when he finally became a starter midway through
his junior season in high school. He didn't really get to become a
teenager until he was 20 or 21 years old, and that saves a lot of
emotional wear and tear. Over the long haul, the best way to
mature is to catch on early but grow up late. Because Goodrich was
always little, he never had to play anything but guard.
Goodrich and two other '64 Bruins -- Hazzard, the leader, and
Keith Erickson, the classic fraternity man -- made the pros and
played for many seasons. It might seem surprising, but the three
players' prolonged involvement with the pros does not appear to
have diminished their feelings about their college championship.
Goodrich says his ``basketball high'' was playing on the '72 Los
Angeles Laker team, which won 33 in a row. But the Lakers do not
intrude on the memory of UCLA '64 -- or the other way round,
either. It's all just games.
What Erickson remembers most fondly about the pros is the Phoenix
Suns team he played on in 1976, the one that finished the regular
season barely above .500 and then went all the way to the finals
before losing a magnificent struggle to the Boston Celtics.
``Phoenix was just as good an experience as UCLA,'' he says,
``because we all gave the best we could, and that's what you love
What I missed in the pros was playing with a coherent philosophy,
as we did for Coach Wooden. And then I missed getting a
championship. But looking back at UCLA, I'm even prouder of the
attitude we established. And I think I had as much to do with that
as any player. I was the passer, and when you have one player
passing, it becomes contagious. Nobody ever expected us to win,
but we knew we were never out of it if we stayed together. That
was the attitude. We were so sharp, so determined.
-- WALT HAZZARD, playmaker
Hazzard was the star, the captain, the catalyst. He was also the
only senior who planned to make basketball his career. ``He knew
what he wanted,'' says Kenny Washington, a teammate that year,
``and he was sufficiently sophisticated to obtain it. But he was
also willing to help anyone he could.'' And the unique experience
was to mean the most to him. Four of the other regulars would win
a second championship the next year, and Goodrich and Erickson
would also play on that '72 Laker title team. But Hazzard was
never to win again; '64 was the only season it all came together,
everything. ``All-American wins championship, marries
cheerleader,'' he says. ``I did it all that year.''
The lack of future success is especially ironic in Hazzard's case,
because he is the player most responsible for triggering the
greatest winning tradition in college basketball. The system had
always been there under Wooden. Hazzard brought the attitude onto
the floor and bequeathed it to his successors. And it wasn't just
that he passed the ball, gave it up. He was a glib city trick, a
black getting a lot of attention as a personality at a time when
that was still pretty rare. Hazzard could easily have remained
unselfish on the court, played the altruistic bit for all it was
worth, but off the court milked everything, played himself up. He
didn't. ``All I thought about was the team,'' he says. ``I mean, I
used to love to go to practice. And when we got to be Number 1, I
liked it even better. You got to pay the cost to be the boss.''
Southern California was less defiled then, more glamorous and
innocent. And UCLA itself: They filmed all the college movies
there. It was the nation's fantasy campus, a perennial Good News:
star athletes and stacked coeds singing and dancing in letter
sweaters. UCLA was already a large campus, but nothing like the
separate nation it is today. People still referred to Westwood,
the UCLA section of Los Angeles, as a village, and students at
Southern Cal put the whole place down as a ``high school.'' UCLA
was so very uncomplicated. The ROTC thrived, and blacks were
viewed as, well, guests. There were only about a hundred on
campus, and Hazzard was once accosted and reprimanded by an
assistant football coach for daring to stroll along in the company
of a white girl.
UCLA didn't even have an arena. The Bruins had to play downtown,
next to the USC campus, in the city's sports
center. The champs-to-be practiced in an old gym that had no
air conditioning. Wooden called off workouts twice that year, once
because the smog got so bad inside the gym that the players
couldn't make out the far basket. But nobody had heard much about
emission standards and irritating things like that. It would soon
be 1964, but temperamentally it was still the '50s, and for the
Bruins, life, like oil, would go on forever.
That is not to say that some of the players didn't live off that
land of honey and honey. Washington, the bashful sophomore from
South Carolina, remembers that he was absolutely undone when he
learned that Erickson, God's great athlete, soiled the temple of
his body by consuming beer. Jack Hirsch, the other starting
forward, was even more adult, being wealthy and married, and
Wooden tolerated Hirsch's calling him JW instead of Coach -- so
long as Hirsch kept a smile on his face, as backup center Doug
McIntosh recalls. But winning didn't transform any of them. In
team sports, it doesn't really matter whether the individuals are
monks or barbarians, sweethearts or sybarites. What counts is that
everybody's character stays the same, that a pattern is
maintained. On the Bruins, things did stay the same.
The other time Wooden called off practice that year was just
before the season started, when the President was killed. Very
quickly things were going to change, but through the first part of
'64 it was still the good old days. It was, at least in
California, the last season of the good old days. ``Times were so
different then,'' Hirsch says. ``I mean, you take basketball.
[Hazzard] was the greatest passer ever to come out of college, and
the pros signed him for around $15,000. So I didn't have any
aspirations about playing pro. Everything was so carefree then.
Remember? The dissenters, the drugs, the war, all that hadn't come
along yet. I was just having some fun and playing basketball. Life
was fun. You've got to figure life is a joke, or it'll eat you up
alive. I was just a screw-off. You could be a screw-off then.''
I never gave a thought to the next day then. I was just a piece of
balsa, floating. I played volleyball, surfed. The beach -- it was
my heaven on earth. Sure, I was an intense competitor, but I
didn't need it. Championships are no big deal. The great thing,
looking back, is having played for John Wooden, because he was a
wise man, a great man. Of course, I didn't know that at the time.
He wasn't any big deal to me. I didn't listen to anything he said.
-- KEITH ERICKSON, safetyman
To take advantage of the team's agility and to compensate for its
lack of height, Wooden utilized his 2-2-1 zone press almost
exclusively in 1964. Goodrich was assigned to the left front, with
Fred Slaughter, the center, at the right. They would usually let
the opponent throw the ball in unmolested. About 80% of the time
the ball would go to the left, and Slaughter would pop over and
double-team. Hazzard was stationed behind Goodrich halfway between
the foul lane and the sideline with Hirsch alongside him, and
Erickson roved far back, playing safety. The idea was not to steal
the ball. The idea was for the front men to harass the man with
the ball sufficiently to make him stop his dribble in the
backcourt. Then he had to pass, and the 10-second clock was
ticking. Hazzard would move up, cutting off any opponent who tried
to come back and help out. Hirsch would pick up the next rival,
usually a big man trying to double back. Stay in front, clog the
outlets, make them throw it long.
Erickson was the keystone of the press. He was a fantastic
athlete, ``almost surely the best I ever coached,'' according to
Wooden. He made the Olympics in volleyball, and he might have
become a major league shortstop. Long-legged, he could jump and
run all day, and he was all the more effective because he did it
so effortlessly, without expression. As people like to remember
it, he never made a mistake backing up the press. He never gambled
and went for a steal when he didn't pull it off. If he played it
safe, if the opposition got the ball upcourt, he would
single-handedly hawk them to rest, holding them at bay until the
other Bruins joined him.
UCLA had a certain way of winning; all of a sudden, using their
press, the Bruins would crack you. It was an explosion. They beat
Duke that way in the NCAA finals. Duke was ahead 30-27 with seven
minutes left in the first half, and then -- zap! -- the press got
to the Blue Devils, UCLA scored 16 straight points in 2:40 and
went on to win 98-83. The epitome of team play was required,
because everybody had to maintain patience and trust. Sometimes it
would be late in the game before the press would detonate, and in
the meantime any of the Bruins could have messed it all up by
getting anxious, going one-on-one, falling out of character. The
press could work only as an article of faith.
The one who suffered most in the system was the only one who had
been heavily recruited. That was Slaughter, the senior center. He
had had 104 scholarship offers. In high school in Kansas and then
with the UCLA freshmen, Slaughter was the high scorer. He was fed
the ball. He was a real hotshot.
But at 6 5" he was too small to be a center, so as his career wore
on he was reduced more and more to staying in the high post,
setting screens, doing the semiskilled labor. ``I'll tell you, it
was hard to take,'' Slaughter says. ``There's nobody who doesn't
want to score, and it took the edge off it for me. But how could I
question it? It was successful.''
I grew up in Beaufort, South Carolina, the sixth of seven
children. My father was a Marine sergeant, and my parents
preached dignity and integrity for all. The only offer I had was
from South Carolina State, a black college, but I dreamed of
competing against the best. Luckily, when I visited Philadelphia
one summer, I played against Walt Hazzard, and he told UCLA
about me. Sort of. He told them I was 6 5", 230. I was about 6 2
I was in absolute culture shock when I arrived at UCLA. I saw
things that I didn't know existed. It was like turning on my
television set. California! And then, '64, that was just more of a
Hollywood dream. It wasn't part of life.
-- KENNY WASHINGTON, fill-in
Around that time, when Washington came across the country on a
bus, everybody was still pouring into California. UCLA had
traditionally stocked its basketball team with Ozzie and Harriet
extras until circumstances conspired to deliver a bunch of players
from the East. Four showed up in Southern California to go to
college; Hirsch, who had grown up in Brooklyn, where he went to an
80%-black school, had moved to L.A. when he was 14.
If he hadn't lived in New York, Hirsch probably wouldn't have been
worth a damn to the team. He was still early Gotham cynical. Timid
little Washington could not believe him. They would sit down at
the training table, Washington drooling over the athletes' special
repast, and Hirsch would shove government- inspected prime beef
and potatoes away, saying, ``I don't want this slop.''
Hirsch had to play with enthusiasm because he was a 6 3 1/2"
forward who couldn't jump and, according to the graceful Erickson,
``ran like a duck.'' Hirsch absolutely confounded Washington, who
thought he could take away Hirsch's starting spot. ``I found out
that Jack was as much a genius, ounce for ounce, as I ever saw,''
Washington says. ``He could take everything he wanted away from
you, and you never even knew it. He played so you couldn't have
Hirsch had company. Hazzard, his friend, made it a pair -- ``East
Coast'' they called him -- slick, not smooth, always coming down
on somebody's case, razzing them. Then at the other end of the
spectrum there were the backwoods kids, McIntosh and Washington,
staggered by California but properly respectful, though never awed
on the court. It was a perfect mix.
I just played basketball because it was something I did well, and
I had fun. I hated practice. It was a bore, so I just fooled
around a lot. I was the odd Jew boy on the team. I sure never had
any competitive drive out there.
It was a fluke that I came to UCLA at all. I was having a great
time in junior college, and the next year I figured I'd go have
some fun at . . . what's that place, uh, Northridge State. But my
father said, ``Look, go to UCLA and I'll give up smoking.'' So I
did, but he didn't quit, and he died of cancer.
-- JACK HIRSCH, handyman
The most fascinating thing about the UCLA team was not that it fit
together so perfectly but that it was formed out of such utter
serendipity. Hirsch came because of a promise his father would
break, Washington because Hazzard told a fib. Slaughter was
unknown in California, but his mother lived out there and tipped
off an alumnus she worked for. McIntosh was going to Tennessee,
but the coach there lost his job, the school lost interest, and an
old friend called Wooden. Erickson was worth the gamble of only
half a basketball scholarship. Wooden was the only college coach
to discern potential in little Goodrich.
Hazzard was a high-scoring high school All-America, but he was a 6
2" forward, and UCLA was the only school outside of Philadelphia
to pursue him. He went to an L.A. junior college for a year to get
his grades up, but then he went back home, started hanging around
with his old buddies again and decided to stay east. Jerry Norman,
the UCLA assistant, phoned him: ``School starts tomorrow, Walt.''
Hazzard said he'd think about it. His father, Walt Sr., came home,
heard about the call and said, ``You told those people you'd be
coming, didn't you, son?'' And Hazzard said yes, he had, and so
that is why he went to UCLA and took along the attitude. It's nice
to learn that a dynasty started in this way.
If ever there was an All-America team, this one was it. Nothing
can match the maturation and camaraderie that I got from getting
to know these guys. I'm glad they're not complicated as
individuals, but we were complicated as a team. We had a degree of
toughness, but we also had poise. That's an unusual combination.
Our success was based on acquiring an understanding of roles.
There's something in that for us all.
-- FRED SLAUGHTER, high-post screen
On any team, the members are all coming from different directions,
will all soon be going different ways. They are together for only
an instant. It is not just personalities and abilities that must
mesh; the time must be right, too. Had all seven Bruins come back
the next fall, it might not have worked. Washington would have had
to get more playing time. McIntosh was ready to replace Slaughter
as the starter. Could Goodrich have tolerated another year as the
second banana in the backcourt? On a team, the time has to come
Slaughter and Goodrich illustrated this most graphically. They had
roomed together, the black senior and the white junior, but that
season they passed each other like ships in the night -- Slaughter
going out of games, Goodrich ever more into them.
Goodrich's career is so patterned, so repetitive, that it appears
to have been charted. At each stage he started tentatively, being
skeptically viewed as too small, but went on to great heights. It
was that way in school, in college, in the pros -- Twig, Stumpy,
Goody. There is something inexorable about little Goodrich.
McIntosh says with some awe, ``Gail is a guy who has survived
mostly on intensity.''
Slaughter was the opposite of Goodrich. He was the early-maturing
high school hero whose star progressively dimmed until, at the
last, he left the athletic stage as a tragic figure. Slaughter
came from Kansas City, and the 1964 NCAAs were played there that
March before his old friends and family. But Wooden yanked him
less than three minutes into the game, and when McIntosh did the
job, Slaughter never got back in.
On the court that night Goodrich was high scorer, with 27, and he
assumed the mantle from Hazzard. But poor Slaughter. He started 59
halves that season, but not the most important one, the last one,
his last one ever. At the very acme of his team's success,
Slaughter reached his nadir as a player. Afterward, many people
did not know how to approach him because they did not know what to
say to him. The team flew back to L.A. ``When we got in,''
Slaughter recalls, ``I just got off the plane by myself. I
remember all the people celebrating, going to Walt and Gail, and I
just walked right on by and went home.''
Hirsch, the iconoclast, the one who took it all the lightest, is
the one who dares speak of what they did as especially meaningful.
``Of course, there's great self-satisfaction,'' he says. ``Winning
is a means to an end, it's an accomplishment, and I'm not afraid
of accomplishment. I can look back and think: It was a success,
wasn't it? We were successful.''
I gained self-control from being on a champion. Once you've been
in the public eye, you understand better that if you fail, you're
going to make a bigger splash. And the experience gave me an
immeasurable amount of confidence. But winning? Let me tell you
something. I never heard Coach Wooden mention it. The word win
never escaped his lips. Literally. He just asked us to play to our
potential. But winning had to have something to do with it,
because if you played to your potential, and if you won, you could
see the result, and you could carry that over into the situations
of life. You must be careful with winning. Athletes are too often
not given a chance to grow or to make mistakes, and that puts them
in a vulnerable position for the rest of their lives.
-- DOUG MCINTOSH, backup center
This is an abridged version of a classic Sports Illustrated
story that originally appeared in the March 26, 1979, issue.
B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN Erickson (53) and Slaughter rose to the occasion in the NCAA semifinals and beat K-State. [Keith Erickson and Fred Slaughter gaining possession of ball during UCLA game with Kansas State]
B/W PHOTO: RUSS HALFORD Goodrich, a little guy, was the Bruins' big scorer. [Gail Goodrich shooting basketball]
B/W PHOTO: RUSS HALFORD Hazzard, a brilliant passer, could also put the ball up. [Walt Hazzard shooting basketball]
B/W PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON Hirsch ran like a duck, but no one laughed. [Jack Hirsch running with basketball
B/W PHOTO: RUSS HALFORD Slaughter (35), a hotshot in high school, was a role player at UCLA. [Fred Slaughter and others during basketball game]
B/W PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON McIntosh was awed by California but not by UCLA's foes. [Doug McIntosh guarded by opponent]
B/W PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON Trophy in hand, Wooden and his troops gathered for a last huddle. [John Wooden holding trophy, surrounded by UCLA players]
"A lot of people thought we were cocky." -- GAIL GOODRICH
"We were never out of it. That was the attitude." -- WALT HAZZARD
"It was a fluke that I came to UCLA at all." -- JACK HIRSCH
"We had toughness, but we also had poise." -- FRED SLAUGHTER
"Winning? I never heard Wooden mention it." -- DOUG MCINTOSH
"They really didn't get along except on the court." -- JOHN WOODEN