Throughout the history of the Los Angeles Lakers there have been a number of standout players who will never have their numbers retired or have statues erected in their honor - call them the Lakers' Forgotten Studs.
As a Lakers fan I want to make sure their legacies are remembered.
Today's installment: Walt Hazzard (later changed to Mahi Abdul-Rahman).
A Former College Legend with Promise
Walt Hazzard spent the first three years of his NBA career with the Lakers from 1965-1967.
The 6'2" guard was already well known by Lakers fans after leading the UCLA Bruins to an undefeated national championship in 1964 with Hazzard being selected as the College Player of the Year and NCAA Tournament MVP.
Hazzard played sparingly as a rookie as the Lakers' backcourt already consisted of Jerry West in his prime and Dick Barnett coming off consecutive seasons scoring at least 18-plus points per game.
In his first professional season Hazzard averaged just 4.2 points and 2.1 assists on 38% field goals in 13.9 minutes per game.
But as the season progressed, so did the rookie's game.
The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals in 1965 as he boosted his postseason numbers to 7.6 points and 4.3 assists per game, though Los Angeles eventually lost to the Boston Celtics in the Finals.
The 1966 Breakout Season
The Lakers parted ways with Dick Barnett following the 1965 season and gave the minutes to Walt Hazzard. The second-year player made the most of his opportunity:
Walt Hazzard, 1966 - Lakers: 27.5 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 46% FG.
Hazzard's 4.9 assists per game were good enough for eighth best in the NBA.
In 1966 the Lakers were set to make another championship push. Jerry West dominated the league with 31.3 PPG. Elgin Baylor, Rudy LaRusso, and Leroy Ellis each averaged at least 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Walt Hazzard was elevating his game while rookie Gail Goodrich flashed tons of potential.
For the second straight season, the Lakers faced the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
And for the second straight season, the Celtics emerged as champions.
Goodrich, and Good-Bye
After an impressive season in 1966, Hazzard saw his minutes siphoned off in 1967 by second-year player Gail Goodrich, a future Hall of Famer and Lakers legend.
Hazzard's numbers dropped in his third season to 20.8 MPG, 9.3 PPG and 4.1 APG as Goodrich's playing time and productivity increased.
1967 was a disappointment for the Lakers with a 36-45 record and first round playoff loss. Jerry West played just one minute in the 1967 postseason, contributing to the Lakers' quick playoff exit.
The 1967 season also proved to be Hazzard's final year as a Laker. He was selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1967 expansion draft.
The promise Walt Hazzard flashed in Los Angeles blossomed in Seattle. In his one season with the SuperSonics in 1968 he averaged 24.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 6.2 APG, placing him seventh in the league in scoring and fifth in assists.
Not surprisingly, Walt Hazzard was an All-Star in 1968.
Hazzard later played for the Atlanta Hawks, Buffalo Braves, and Golden State Warriors, consistently scoring double figures and finishing among the league leaders in assists.
When he retired following the 1973 season, he had finished among the NBA's Top-10 in assists six times in his 10-year career.
Under different circumstances, Hazzard may have become one of the all-time great Lakers. A backcourt of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Hazzard would have been unstoppable.
But in the end, the Lakers had him for just three years, reaching the NBA Finals twice. Walt Hazzard leaves behind a legacy in Los Angeles that should not be forgotten.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Lakers fan. For more from this author, or check these out articles:
- Sports & Recreation
- Walt Hazzard
- the Lakers
- Gail Goodrich