Walt Hazzard, the former UCLA and NBA star who played on the Bruins’ first NCAA championship basketball team in 1964 and later spent a season with the expansion Seattle SuperSonics, died Friday due to complications following heart surgery. He was 69.
Hazzard, a co-captain of UCLA’s 1964 national title team under coach John Wooden, suffered a stroke in March of 1996 and made a partial recovery, but became less publicly active. He made occasional appearances at UCLA games in recent years.
After graduating from UCLA, Hazzard went to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1964 NBA draft as a “territorial selection.” Prior to entering the NBA, Hazzard helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He spent three seasons with the Lakers and was selected by the expansion Seattle SuperSonics in the May 1, 1967 draft.
During his first stint season with the Sonics (1967-68) under head coach Al Bianchi, Hazzard, who later changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, averaged a team-high 24 points per game and a team-high 6.2 assists in 79 contests. He earned the only All-Star selection of his career that season, becoming Seattle’s first NBA All-Star.
Just before the start of the 1968-69 NBA season, on Oct. 12, the Sonics shipped Abdul-Rahman to the Atlanta Hawks for Lenny Wilkens, who turned out to have a profound impact on the franchise. Wilkens played for the Sonics from 1969-72, went to Cleveland in a trade, returned as head coach in 1978, and coached the Sonics to their only NBA championship in 1979.
Abdul-Rahman played eight more years in the NBA after leaving Seattle before retiring after another stint (1973-74) with the Sonics. Following his playing career, Abdul-Rahman changed his name back to Walt Hazzard and went into coaching.
He became UCLA’s head coach in 1984 (the same year he was inducted into the UCLA athletic Hall of Fame) and guided the Bruins for four seasons, through 1988, winning 77 of 125 games. In 1985, Hazzard led the Bruins to the school’s first NIT championship.
In 1987, UCLA won the Pac-10 title and the league’s first postseason tournament with future NBA star Reggie Miller in its lineup. The Bruins finished with a 25-7 record, losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
After the Bruins slumped to a 16-14 record the following season, and Hazzard was replaced by Jim Harrick for the 1988-89 season.