Willie Naulls ’78, a 6’6″ forward and integration pioneer who earned All-American honors in 1956 and went on to a stellar NBA career, passed away on Nov. 22 at his home in Laguna Niguel. He was 84.
Naulls is one of the seminal figures in UCLA basketball history, establishing school records for rebounds in a game and field goal attempts in a season that still stand, and finishing his career as the Bruins’ all-time leader in points and rebounds. During his 10-year NBA career, he was a four-time all-star with the New York Knicks and a three-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. He was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, but was traded to the Knicks early in his rookie season, eventually becoming the first black team captain in integrated American professional sports.
After retiring from basketball in 1966, Naulls completed his undergraduate degree, was voted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, served on the board of directors of the Alumni Association (of which he was a life member) and became the first Bruin basketball alumnus to endow a scholarship for the basketball program.
He received a master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in 1994, became a minister, and opened a facility in Hawthorne whose goal was to inspire young people from inner-city neighborhoods to lead productive lives.