Ah, UCLA, it’s so good to have you back.
After what seems like a century-long hiatus, the UCLA Bruins are back in the NCAA Final Four and are the second team ever to make it all the way from March Madness’s First Four round to this point. Junior sharpshooter Johnny Juzang (90% FT) is looking like a solid first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft with his performance thus far and is cementing his place in UCLA lore with this run.
Which begs the question: who are the greatest NBA players to play at UCLA? Two obvious names come to mind, but let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at the greatest to ever don the blue and gold.
These are the greatest NBA players to play at the University of California, Los Angeles.
5. Baron Davis
There are few lists that would rank Baron ‘B-Diddy’ Davis as only the second-most exciting player, and sadly this is one of those lists.
For almost a decade, Baron Davis was one of the most electric players in the league. At 6’3 and 209 pounds, he was one of the NBA’s bigger point guards, and he leveraged that into smothering defense, thunderous dunks, and immovable drives into the lane. For his peak stretch, Davis averaged near 20 PPG and about eight APG, while nabbing almost two steals per game (1.8 career SPG, 2x NBA steals champion).
(1998) UCLA Baron Davis making the defense looks silly. 🍿
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) March 31, 2021
He is remembered for how incredible the classic Charlotte Hornets jerseys were (03-04 All-NBA), and then later on as the heart and leader of the 06-07 Golden State Warriors. You may remember that team as the ‘We Believe’ Warriors, only the third 8th seed in league history to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Even though they lost to the Utah Jazz in the very next round, Diddy is remembered for the career-ruining dunk he landed on Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko. For that memorable playoff run, Davis put his money where his mouth was, averaging 25.3 points, 6.5 assists, 2.9 steals, and 4.5 rebounds through the run.
He would fall off in later years as the Warriors would commit to a rebuild around Monta Ellis and later Steph Curry. Davis would hop around the league for a bit before retiring quietly in 2012. But for a few magical years, Baron Davis and the Warriors lit the world on fire. Of course, before that, he was a stud at UCLA.
4. Gail Goodrich
One of the original great Los Angeles Lakers, and one of the league’s first true snipers, Gail Goodrich found himself staying home after graduating from UCLA, and is remembered as a key component to several iconic Lakers squads.
An efficient equivalent to today’s three-and-D specialists, Goodrich’s game aged like fine wine throughout his career. His scoring average was impressive for a shooter without the service of the three-point line, breaking the 20PPG threshold for a decade on 45% FG and 80% from the stripe. As stated above, the 5x All-Star and 1x All-NBA guard also made his mark as the safety valve for a bunch of iconic Lakers teams and feasted off of open looks generated by the attention given to stars like Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and an older Wilt Chamberlain.
Towards the end of his career, Goodrich would end up running alongside another former Bruin that will show up later on this list, and through it all, he was defined by one word: consistency. Perfect for a superstar’s safety valve.
3. Kevin Love
People forget Kevin Love. People also forget how good he was at UCLA.
Now widely known as the most famous media punching bag from LeBron James’ second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Love’s history as a statistical anomaly is largely forgotten. But people forget that LeBron actually demanded that Love be traded to Cleveland for the team’s number one pick that year (the pick would turn into Andrew Wiggins) as a signing condition. Why?
Because Kevin Love was one of the NBA’s true unicorns at the time. He will not be nearly as revered as Goodrich or Davis in the minds of fans, but he beats the snot out of both of them in two of the things they were good at, shooting (37% 3FG) and the all-important Player Efficiency Rating (21.5). Goodrich can argue for shooting, but Love blows both of the aforementioned players out of the water as an offensive option in terms of efficiency.
Kevin Love & Russell Westbrook had crazy chemistry at UCLA 🔥
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) April 7, 2020
He is an underrated passer, especially out of the outlet, and can score on all three levels of the court. His accolades also speak for themselves (ROY, 2x All-NBA, 5x All-Star, 2016 NBA champion). However, one accolade stands above the rest for the sweet-shooting big man: his 2010-11 rebounding championship. Kevin Love was an undeniable beast on the boards and averaged 15.2 per game in 2011. He was the first player to reach those numbers since Karl Malone in 1982-83, and with that came the longest streak of double-doubles since the NBA-ABA merger (53). This same season, Love also posted the first 30-point/30-rebound game since Moses Malone in 1982.
It’s a shame he’ll mostly just be remembered for his lockdown defense of Steph Curry in the 2016 NBA Finals. LeBron James picked Kevin Love for a reason, after all.
2. Russell Westbrook
One note about the top two players on this list: the talent level gets bananas from here on out.
Russell Westbrook is storm and fury personified. He has been compared to a prime Derrick Rose, a faster but more raw Michael Jordan, someone with the mentality of Kobe Bryant, but the counterpoint to that is this: no one has ever approached the game with the same ferocity as Russell Westbrook.
He is remembered for his MVP run in 2016-17 after fellow superstar Kevin Durant left him for the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook went on to be the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season, a feat thought impossible by many. No one thought Oscar’s triple-double season could be replicated, at least until Westbrook came along.
Then he did it twice more.
What’s even crazier is that after that three-year run of triple-double seasons, he’s gearing up to do it again this season (20PPG, 10RPG, 10APG).
Love him or hate him, Russell Westbrook has cemented his place in NBA history with his stats. On top of those, he has 9 All-Star and All-NBA nods, the aforementioned MVP award, and is a 2x scoring and assist champion. Scoreboard.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
We all knew where this was headed right?
Let’s start with the stats and records: 1st in all-time career points (38,873), 3rd in career rebounds (17,440), tied-1st in MVP awards (6), and 3rd in career blocks (3,189). Notably, blocked shots weren’t even a recorded stat until his third year in the league. Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA and was a 19x All-Star and 15x All-NBA selection. He has six rings to his name, as well as two Finals MVP trophies, and is synonymous with the most unstoppable shot in NBA history: the skyhook.
51 years ago today, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 29 in his NBA debut. @kaj33's Rookie Season:
28.8 PTS & 14.5 REB
Rookie Of The Year
All-NBA 2nd team
All-Defensive 2nd team
3rd in MVP Votingpic.twitter.com/27PqM0TE5I
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 18, 2020
As for his amateur years, Kareem came up in a time where freshmen in college weren’t allowed on their school’s varsity team, so he only technically played three years for the UCLA Bruins proper. In all three years, the Bruins won the NCAA Tournament, with Kareem walking away as tournament MVP in all three years as well as part of coaching legend John Wooden’s biggest claim to fame.
He was never flashy, spectacular, or engaging, except in his brilliance on the court. ESPN has recognized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the greatest college basketball player of all-time, and the best overall center of all time. He was boring, enigmatic, and above all, excellent and will forever be enshrined in NBA and UCLA history.