Commentary

Walt Hazzard lived for others

For all his accolades, Hazzard will be remembered as a great leader and family man

Updated: November 18, 2011, 10:14 PM ET
By Shelley Smith | ESPNLosAngeles.com

He loved Miles Davis, the Lakers and Red Vines. He married a UCLA song girl, won an NCAA title with John Wooden and Olympic gold with Bill Bradley, Larry Brown and Coach Henry Iba. He was a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers and traded laughs with Kobe and Shaq.

Walt Hazzard was successful in everything he did and had ample reason to brag and boast. But what he was most proud of was his family -- Jaleesa, his wife of 47 years last May; his successful four boys; and the work he did in his inner-city neighborhood in Los Angeles, to help middle school children find better lives.

[+] EnlargeWalt Hazzard
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireWalt Hazzard led UCLA to its first national basketball championship in 1964, but it's his leadership, family and wit for which he will be remembered.

"He was my hero, my everything," Rasheed Hazzard, a former Lakers assistant coach, said of his father, who passed away Friday at the age of 69 from complications following heart surgery. "We all are going to miss his hugs, his wisdom and his smile."

Hazzard, who was part of UCLA's undefeated 1963-64 season, was the MVP of the NCAA tournament that season and went on to play for five NBA teams in 10 seasons. He returned to coach at his alma mater in 1984 and was inducted into the school's hall of fame. He is one of just seven UCLA men's basketball players to have his uniform number retired -- although he gladly gave that up to give the number to former Bruin and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love.

After he was fired from UCLA in 1988, he founded the Los Angeles Sports Academy, which focused on impacting the lives of young students. He recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles.

"What he loved most was seeing young kids go on to do great things," Rasheed said. "That's what he would brag about most -- someone who went on to get a good job, become a good person in a productive role."

Hazzard's body failed him in 1996, when he suffered a massive stroke. But his mind was still intact, as was his wit. Confined mainly to a wheelchair, Hazzard sat at the end of Rasheed's bench when he was coaching at Venice High School and called in plays, and offered advice with the wit that never left him.

"He couldn't say what he wanted, but you'd look at his face and in his eyes and see that grin and you'd know what he was thinking," Rasheed said.

During the Shaq-Kobe era, Walt never missed a home game, and he became a familiar figure up in the mid-level wheelchair section. When Rasheed joined the staff in 2004, he and his dad forged a special bond that only a former Laker and current Laker, who also happen to be father and son, could possibly share.

"At the end of the first quarter or the first timeout of the second, I'd look up and point to him," Rasheed said. "And he'd inevitably have a Red Vine hanging out of his mouth, but he'd take it out, point back at me and let me see him smile. I know he was proud of me for coaching and for coaching with the Lakers, who he loved with all his heart."

Rasheed said Walt died knowing his sons had listened to him and were doing great things as young men: Walt's oldest son, Jacub, is a successful attorney and one of the country's top litigators; Jalal ran the foundation Walt began and is now senior program officer for the non-profit LA84 Foundation; and Khalil just won a Grammy Award as producer for Eminem -- his song "Won't Back Down" was played during the Lakers' last run to the title in 2010, during Game 7 against Boston -- with Rasheed on the bench and Walt in the stands. The Lakers had kept Walt on the staff as a special consultant but they let Rasheed and everyone else go last spring in light of the pending NBA lockout. Rasheed says he will stay in coaching, keeping faith that the lockout will end and someone will call. But there will be a hole -- no one to point a Red Vine back at him.

"Everyone will remember him that he was a hell of a player in college, in pros, in high school," Rasheed said. "But what they don't know is the people he helped along the way. Kids in the neighborhood, kids he didn't even know. That and being married to my mom for 47 years and his boys were his proudest accomplishments."

Shelley Smith

SportsCenter correspondent
Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.

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