California has been always linked with basketball, mostly due to the success the Los Angeles Lakers have had since moving there from Minnesota almost 60 years ago, becoming one of the most successful franchises in sports history.
On top of that, several NBA players were born and raised on the streets of “Cali”: Ron Adams, Ray Allen, Baron Davis, Jason Collins, Scott Brooks, Paul Pierce, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, James Harden, Brandon Jennings, Jason Kidd, Steve Kerr, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Korver, the Lopez twins, Kevin Love, Reggie Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson are just a some of the hundreds of NBA players from this state.
And now, as March Madness is upon us and the UCLA Bruins have a fair shot of upsetting pretty much everybody and become national champions, we’ll give you the list of the 10 best players that have played for the University of California at Los Angeles through history.
10. Sidney Wicks
Wicks is one of the most important players in Trail Blazers history, becoming a complete force at the Power Forward spot since being drafted second overall by Portland in the 1971 draft, staying 5 years there before taking his talents to the Boston Celtics and the San Diego Clippers, where he retired after a 10 year career in 1981.
With his 24.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, Wicks became a very dominant player and easily won the Rookie of the Year award, and even if he never became the monster everybody thought he would be, he still managed to earn 4 All-Star Game appearances.
9. Jamaal Wilkes
The eleventh pick of the 1974 NBA Draft enjoyed a pretty good rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, earning the Rookie of the Year award thanks to his solid 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game averages and winning the NBA Championship.
Wilkes kept getting better in the upcoming years, earning 3 All-Star appearances, while playing for the Warriors, the Lakers, and the Clippers, which means he spent his entire career in the state of California.
8. Reggie Miller
What can we say about Reggie Miller that hasn’t already been said? The Knicks killer, the trash talker and arguably the first real three point shooting threat of the NBA was also a UCLA Bruin before becoming arguably the most important player in Pacers history.
The 11th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft spent his entire 18-year career with the Pacers, although he was never able to lead them to a Championship run. Nevertheless, the shooting guard still managed to become an Olympic Champion and World Champion with his National team, averaging 18.2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.1 steals per game on .471 shooting and .395 from deep.
7. Kevin Love
Doctor Love also has to be on this list. Although his progress has really been cut short since becoming the third offensive option on the current NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was the best player the Minnesota Timberwolves had since letting Kevin Garnett walk away to the Boston Celtics.
The power forward still has a lot left in his tank, as the former 5th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft is just 28 years old. Also, “Mr. Double Double” has put up some pretty decent averages through his NBA Career despite his constant injuries, averaging 18.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, earning 3 All-Star Games appearances and he also owns the record for most rebounds in a game for the Timberwolves, cleaning the glass 31 times against the New York Knicks in 2011.
6. Gail Goodrich
“Stumpy” Goodrich earns his spot on this list after a very successful 14-year career as an NBA point guard, where he had a couple of stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Jazz between 1965 and 1979.
Playing side by side with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, Goodrich still managed to become a very prominent player, becoming the leading scorer for that Lakers team and becoming one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history thanks to his more than 19000 career points and his averages of 18.6 points, 4.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game.
5. Kiki Vandeweghe
The German small forward Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe, best known as Kiki Vandeweghe, is yet another successful Bruin alumni in the NBA, being one of the first successful foreign players to actually make it to the world’s best basketball league.
The former leading 3-point shooter in the NBA (averaging just over 48% from deep) and 2 time All-Star was a complete scoring machine, averaging 19.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game through his 13 year career, being a regular starter for the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers, the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers, before retiring and becoming a head coach, having a failed stint with the New Jersey Nets.
4. Marques Johnson
The former third pick in the 1977 NBA Draft also earned a spot on this list thanks to his eleven-season career and his outstanding scoring ability, being yet another successful shooting guard with a killer instinct and amazing moves to leave defenders behind.
“M.J” was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks before playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, where he retired in 1980. Through his career, he managed to average 20.1 points and 7 rebounds per game, showing great athleticism. Nevertheless, a serious neck injury prevented him from growing even more as a player and it wound up killing his career.
3. Russell Westbrook
The triple double machine keeps climbing the NBA ladder despite being one of the most underrated players through his career, mostly because he spent most of it playing alongside Kevin Durant. But now that he’s fully committed to stay with the Thunder and run the show for the team that trusted him with the 4th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, the Brodie has become a monster, being the only player to average a triple-double throughout an entire season since Oscar Robertson did so several years ago.
He’s just 28 years old and his playing the best ball of his career, making a very strong case for this year’s MVP award. Besides, he’s made 5 All-Star appearances (with one ASG MVP award), also being an Olympic and World Champion with Team USA. On top of that, he’s put some pretty nice numbers through his career, averaging 21.5 points, 7.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game, despite being very criticized for not being a “pure” point guard, even being Darren Collison’s substitute while at UCLA.
2. Bill Walton
The Big Red Head was a complete force through his 12 year career with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers, and the Boston Celtics, earning the right to become a Hall Of Famer, a 2-time NBA Champion, an NBA MVP, a Finals MVP, a leading rebounder and shot blocker of the league, a 2-time All-Star and the Sixth Man of the Year.
The center almost averaged a double-double through his career with averages of 10.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, being more of a defensive specialist and a key piece of the Championship winners Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 thanks to his outstanding performances against the Philadelphia 76ers.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
There’s no doubt that Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best player in UCLA history, and arguably a top 5 player in NBA history, also being the league's historic leading scorer with his 38,387 points, the player with most minutes played, the most field goals attempted and made and the second player with most playoff appearances with 237.
On top of that, he’s the second player with most games played, 8th in career field goal percentage, third in rebounds, 41st in assists, 3rd in blocked shots (although blocks weren’t counted until the 73-74 season) and 12th in points per game average.
Last but not least, Kareem also earned the Rookie of the Year award, 6 NBA Championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP's, 6 NBA MVP's and the first player in history to play for 20 seasons, making everybody forget about Wilt Chamberlain when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers after becoming a beast for the Milwaukee Bucks, earning the right to be UCLA’s biggest sports glory and one of the best players every single sport has ever seen.