Gail Goodrich: A Native Legend


Many NBA superstars played for the Los Angeles Lakers at one time, and today their retired jerseys hang from the rafters of the Staples Center.

More from Lakers News

Everyone knows their names: Centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal; forwards Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, and Jamaal Wilkes; guards Magic Johnson and Jerry West.

But there is one other retired jersey, No. 25, which belonged to the least recognizable member of this esteemed Lakers fraternity.

Gail Goodrich is not well-known to today’s young fans. However, when considering the totality of his prep, college and professional careers, all of which occurred in Los Angeles, he might be the greatest basketball player in the history of Los Angeles hoops.

As a prep star, Goodrich was captain of the John H. Francis Polytechnic High School team that won the 1961 Los Angeles City high school basketball championship. Goodrich scored 29 points in the final game despite leaving in the third quarter with a broken ankle.

Goodrich wanted to attend USC but was only 5’ 8” tall in his junior year of high school, so USC showed little interest in him. Instead, he was coveted by legendary coach John Wooden and thus decided to play college ball at UCLA.

March 14, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; ESPN broadcaster Bill Walton during the second half in the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference tournament between the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona Wildcats at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Wildcats defeated the Ducks 80-52. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Goodrich was a tenacious competitor in college who led the 1963-64 Bruins to a perfect 30-0 record. As a senior in 1964-65, the Bruins repeated as NCAA champions with Goodrich averaging 24.6 points per game.

He scored a then-record 42 points in the 1965 championship game, which is still the second highest tally in an NCAA title game (fellow Bruin Bill Walton holds the record at 44 points). His won/loss record for three seasons at UCLA was 78 wins and 11 losses (in that era freshman could not play on the varsity squad).

He finished his collegiate career as UCLA’s all-time leading scorer (1,690 points). In both championship seasons, Goodrich was named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team. This was the beginning of UCLA’s streak in which it won 10 NCAA basketball titles between 1964 and 1975. He was a two-time All-American, and in 1965, he was named Helms Foundation co-player of the year.

When he graduated from college Goodrich was a 6’ 1” shooting guard, which was short for a basketball player even by 1960s standards (he was affectionately nicknamed “Stumpy” by Baylor). Still, he was selected by the Lakers in the 1965 NBA draft.  In his first season, he played sparingly as a back-up to West and former Bruin teammate Walt Hazzard. The Lakers made the NBA finals that year but lost to the Boston Celtics.

Over the next two seasons, Goodrich’s minutes slowly increased. In the first game of his second year he scored 30 points, earning him the right to split time with Hazard that season. He went on the average 12.4 points per game for the year.

In his third season, he played more minutes but as back-up to Archie Clark, the team’s new guard who had been signed to start opposite West. The Lakers returned to the NBA finals only to lose to the Celtics again.

Unexpectedly, in 1968, Goodrich was lost in the expansion draft to the Phoenix Suns, where he quickly emerged as an NBA star. He scored at least 22 points in each of the Suns first 11 games, and three times that season he scored more than 40 points in a contest.

For the year, Goodrich averaged 23.8 points per game which ranked sixth in the league. He also averaged 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. He was selected to his first NBA All-Star team.

After another strong season with the Suns, Goodrich returned to the Lakers in a trade for center Mel Counts. Parenthetically, this was the first in a long line of trades the Lakers made over the next 40 years in which they stole an NBA star from another team for seemingly nothing. As a starter alongside West during the 1970-71 season, Goodrich averaged 17.5 points per game and was an important contributor.

The 1971-72 Lakers were magical, as the franchise assembled one of the greatest teams in NBA history. The year started inauspiciously when Baylor was forced to retire after the first few games due to his ailing knees. The very next game, the team commenced a winning streak that extended for a record 33 consecutive games en route to an overall record of 69-13 for the season.

What most people forget is that it was Goodrich, not West, who led the team in scoring that season, averaging 25.9 points per game. He scored 30 or more points in 28 separate contests. The Lakers defeated the New York Knicks for the title, and Goodrich was the team’s leading scorer in the finals with 25.6 point average.

May 3, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors executive board member Jerry West before game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 101-86. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Goodrich went on to repeat as the Lakers leading scorer for the next three consecutive seasons. His best individual year was in 1973-74, when he achieved first-team All-NBA honors, scored over 2,000 points, and averaged 25.3 points a game which was fourth in the league. He led the NBA in free throws made and attempted.

In the 1975-76 season, after West retired, Goodrich switched to the ball-handling guard position (the point guard position did not exist in those days) where he played opposite another former Bruin, Lucius Allen. That season was also notable for the fact that the Lakers added, via a trade, a third Bruin to the roster, Abdul-Jabbar.

Goodrich was unhappy with his Lakers contract and even held out at the start of one season. So after the 1975-76 season, he decided to go elsewhere and signed a three-year deal to play for the New Orleans Jazz. He was teamed in the backcourt with Pete Maravich.

Unfortunately, Goodrich sustained an Achilles tendon injury which ended his first season with the Jazz. He came back strong the next year at age 34, averaging 16.1 points a game and shooting a career-best 49.5 percent from the field.

Goodrich retired after his 14th NBA season in 1978-79. For the year, he averaged 12.7 points per game.

So why is Goodrich’s jersey hanging in the Staples Center next to those of more-recognizable Lakers stars?

Sep 24, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Basketball Hall of Fame player Elgin Gay Baylor throws out the first pitch before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 9-1 to clinch the NL West Division Championship. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For his career, he scored 19,181 points. He was a five-time All-Star with the Lakers and earned All-NBA honors once.  He is the third all-time scorer in NBA history among left-handed players. When he retired, he was 11th all-time in scoring and 10th all-time in assists.

In terms of his Lakers ranking, he is among the leaders in several statistical categories including sixth in total points (13,044), seventh in assists (2,863), seventh in free throws made (2,830), and ninth in total games played (687).  His contributions to the 1971-72 squad, arguably the best team in Lakers and NBA history, have earned him a spot among the franchise’s all- time greatest players.

Goodrich’s impressive accomplishments make him perhaps the best Los Angeles bred basketball player of all time that few people today have heard of or know anything about, especially when you consider his high school, collegiate, and professional achievements in combination.

Yet, for those basketball fans who grew up in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, Goodrich is an illustrious name that is synonymous with the UCLA dynasty and Lakers’ first championship in Los Angeles.

Hopefully Goodrich will be more visible at future Lakers events where young fans will get to know him better.

Next: Shaq to Kobe: 'If You Still Got Something, You Should Go'

More from Lake Show Life