The 1964 UCLA basketball team won the program’s first of many national championships

This is a guest blog post by freelance writer Michael Ellis detailing the 1964 UCLA basketball team, the program’s first to win a national championship.

UCLA's Fred Slaughter, a member of the program's first national championship team in 1964, grabs a rebound during a game against Northwestern in 1962.

UCLA’s Fred Slaughter, a member of the program’s first national championship team in 1964, grabs a rebound during a game against Northwestern in 1962.

By Michael Ellis
The photograph, taken in 1962, shows Fred Slaughter grabbing a rebound with the same determination that a falcon seizes its prey. So when Slaughter, the center on John Wooden’s first championship team, died recently, I felt a special loss. But paradoxically, for many of us, Coach remains a guardian of the future.

At 6 feet 5 inches, Slaughter, at center, was one of the two tallest starters on the 1964 team. The other was forward Keith Erickson. Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich were the guards; Jack Hirsch and Erickson were the forwards. Two other players, Kenny Washington and Doug McIntosh, provided vital support off the bench, and the hopes of UCLA rode on the shoulders of seven young men. (The other players were Chuck Darrow, Kim Stewart, Mike Huggins, Vaughn Hoffman, Rich Levin, Kent Graham and Steve Brucker.)

They weren’t inseparable off the court, but they were spokes on the same wheel while on it. The two-two-one zone press, devised by assistant coach Jerry Norman, depended on trust and accountability. Goodrich and Slaughter were the first defenders; Hazzard and Hirsch were next; and Erickson was the safety.

Talking to Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff in 2007, Norman said, “The idea wasn’t to steal the ball….It was to increase tempo.”

Forrest Twogood, Southern Cal’s coach, put it differently: “Have you ever been locked up in a casket for six days? That’s how it feels.”

Most basketball teams play half their games at home; the 1964 team didn’t. “For home games that season,” Wolff wrote, “the Bruins bused to the L.A. Sports Arena, which was virtually on the USC campus; the Long Beach Arena, 25 miles away; and even the gym at a community college in Santa Monica. The Bruins would essentially play 30 road games.”

Fifty-two years later, three voices — those of Wooden, Hazzard and Slaughter — can no longer speak. While all seven players took different paths after leaving UCLA, they were all, to quote Wooden, “the best that they could be” in that magical year, a time when the Athletic Department shared a commitment to excellence and believed the circle should remain unbroken.

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Fred Slaughter: After earning a degree in business administration and an MBA at UCLA, Slaughter, a high school star in Topeka, Kan., (as a sprinter in track and a basketball player), graduated from Columbia University’s Law School. He later became one of the most successful sports agents of his time.

Speaking to Curt Kaywood of the Topeka Capital-Journal in 2004, Slaughter said, “When I sat across the table from (NBA Commissioner) David Stern and his five or six attorneys involved in collective-bargaining negotiations for the referees in the NBA, I never felt we were unable to deal with the pressure … because of Topeka, because of John Wooden, because of the Pyramid of Success. All those things were bolstering me.”

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Walt Hazzard: Following his career as UCLA’s leader on the floor, Hazzard played on the 1964 Olympic team that won gold in Tokyo. He was also a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers and played 10 years in the NBA. The New York Times said Hazzard “ranked among the league’s top 10 in assists during six of his seasons.”

Hazzard, from the same Philadelphia high school as Wilt Chamberlain, was UCLA’s basketball coach for four years during the 1980s. He converted to Islam in 1971 and changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman but later returned to using Walt Hazzard because of concerns that “people were scared of my Muslim name on a resume.”

* * * * *

Gail Goodrich: After leading UCLA to a second consecutive title in 1965 with a then-record 42 points against Michigan (the record stood until another Bruin, Bill Walton, broke it with 44 points against Memphis in 1973), Goodrich was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. He became a star with the Phoenix Suns in his fourth year in the league.

Goodrich later returned to the Lakers and ended his career with the New Orleans Jazz. He played 14 seasons in the NBA and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.

Originally from the San Fernando Valley, Goodrich now lives in Greenwich, Conn., and after working as an executive for two golf companies is an analyst for the NBA.

* * * * *

Keith Erickson: A vital part of UCLA’s first two championships (with Goodrich in 1964 and 1965), Erickson played for 12 years in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. He was a teammate of Goodrich, as well as Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, on the championship Lakers team of 1972. Erickson was later a commentator with Chick Hearn on Lakers games and a commentator on Suns games.

Erickson, from El Segundo and described by Wooden as “almost surely the best (athlete) I ever coached,” was outstanding in other sports and a member of the U.S. volleyball team in the 1964 Olympics. Sadly, Erickson and his wife, Adrienne, suffered the loss of a daughter when she was 22.

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Jack Hirsch: After leaving UCLA, Hirsch, a defensive stalwart and the only player on the team who was married, later served as Hazzard’s top assistant when he coached at UCLA.

He told Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford in 1979, “I didn’t have any aspirations about playing pro. It was a fluke that I came to UCLA at all. I was having a great time in junior college … 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.”

Hirsch, who learned to play basketball in Brooklyn and at 75 is the oldest among the surviving players, did well as the owner of several bowling alleys.

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Kenny Washington: After scoring 26 points in UCLA’s defeat of Duke in the title game and contributing to the 1965 and 1966 teams, Washington graduated with a degree in economics. He later graduated from law school at Loyola and worked as a parole officer with juveniles.

Washington, who rode in a Greyhound bus from the segregated South to UCLA, later played abroad and in the Army. (He was recommended to UCLA by Hazzard after playing against him in pickup games in Philadelphia.)

Washington, from Beaufort, S.C., was also the first coach of UCLA women’s basketball. His 1974 team finished with a record of 18-4 and had a freshman named Ann Meyers (Drysdale).

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Doug McIntosh: With his basketball career over, McIntosh attended a seminary in Dallas and then established a church outside of Atlanta where he is a pastor.

McIntosh, from Lily, Ky., played a crucial role in substituting for Slaughter in the 1964 title game against Duke. (He had planned to go to Tennessee, but the coach there, a former Boilermaker like Wooden, had resigned and let Wooden know about McIntosh.)

Writing in 1979, Deford said McIntosh “could not sleep after UCLA beat Duke, so, finally, he got up and went down to the hotel lobby in Kansas City where four or five of the other players were also sitting around, breathing it in.”

And that is what the UCLA community has always done when its teams answer the call to greatness: breathe it in.

* * * * *

There’s a photo of Wooden, late in life, being led into Pauley Pavilion by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The photo is deeply moving and not just because it suggests the passing of the torch from the builder of a dynasty to his brightest star.

No, it comes closer to this. To remember Wooden is to remember a time when hope was a beacon of unvarying light, and those who saw it knew the way home.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and  John Wooden at Pauley Pavilion.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Wooden at Pauley Pavilion.