A lot of people thought we were cocky, but Wooden told us: be confident, not cocky. We knew we were going to win, and I think that carried over—because we did win—and gave me confidence in making decisions in life. But you have to experience defeat to really understand victory. The year before, when I was a sophomore, we lost seven games by something like 20 points. Having had that year made the winning experience better. I learned a lot of things at that time. People say: but they were just games. And they were. But they were satisfying. After a while, you knew exactly what you were going to do and what everybody around you was going to do. And that's a real accomplishment. As a team, we affected the whole game of basketball, and what made us good as a team carried on over into the rest of my life.
—GAIL GOODRICH, Shooter
Goodrich will be 36 next month, but he still plays, now with the New Orleans Jazz. He's the oldest player in the NBA, the last of the war babies in satin shorts. He 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 teen-ager 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. "I can't drive to the basket anymore," he says, "but I never was fast, and I've always tried to play with an understanding of my limits. I still prepare for a game the same way as ever, napping in the afternoon. This goes back to UCLA. My contract is up after this season, but I don't know, we'll see. I still like to play the game. I still like to bounce the ball."
The other two Bruins who made the pros also played for many seasons, and they remain the most involved in basketball. Hazzard, who converted to Islam and is known as Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, wants terribly to get a shot at coaching. He coaches kids' teams in L.A. just to work at it, stay in the game. Keith Erickson, the classic fraternity man who has become an evangelical Christian, is a TV announcer, doing the NBA on CBS and local games in Los Angeles.
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 is the only one of the seven who acknowledges that something concrete devolved from winning—one word: "publicity"—but neither he nor Erickson nor Abdul-Rahman feels the value of the NCAA title has been lessened by their having subsequently played hundreds of games for a livelihood.
Like first love, it seems that if any memorable moment of youth is precious enough, it retains its special value, no matter how much what follows may duplicate it. The nature of the person, not the fact that he did or did not continue to play, seems to have determined how deeply, how affectionately he treasures the triumphs of his college years. For example, if you could weigh it on a scale, it would seem that Goodrich, who has played more than a thousand games since college, and McIntosh, who has played exactly none, both hold the '64 championship in the same regard. But McIntosh says that his greatest thrill in basketball was going to the state tournament in high school, and Goodrich's "basketball high" was playing on the '72 Laker team that won 33 in a row. But neither Lily (Ky.) High nor the Lakers intrudes 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 was the Phoenix 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 Celtics. " Phoenix was just as good an experience as UCLA," Erickson says. Just as good? "Yeah, sure."
But you didn't win at Phoenix, you got beat in the finals. You won at UCLA. "Well, it was just as good, because we all gave the best we could, and that's what you love about it."
What I missed in the pros was playing with a coherent philosophy, as we did for Coach Wooden. And then I missed never getting a championship. I regret that because I liked winning a championship, being considered a champion. But looking back, back at UCLA, I'm even prouder of the attitude we established there. 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. You knew everybody would be there. I guess you spend your whole life looking to be covered like we were that year.
—MAHDI ABDUL-RAHMAN, Playmaker
Hazzard was the star, the captain, the catalyst. He was also the only senior who planned to make basketball his career. "Basketball was Abdul-Rahman," Washington says. "He knew what he wanted, 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 1971-72 Laker title team. But, as Abdul-Rahman recounts in his smoky voice, he 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."
By contrast, Abdul-Rahman's pro career was seldom very gratifying, attitude and passing being viewed as superfluous commodities in the NBA, and at the end, when he should have gotten some kind of coaching job, he is sure that he was blackballed because of his new religion. He became a social worker and then last year went back to UCLA full time to complete his degree. Now he is involved in various projects, but all he really wants to do is coach. Abdul-Rahman would seem to be a natural: smart at basketball, good with people. But the Moslem thing aside, he never played for a champion in the pros, and people who hire look to winners for coaches. For years the NBA has been stocked with bad coaches who played for the Celtics.