LOS ANGELES — Willie Naulls, the former UCLA star who was a four-time All-Star with the New York Knicks and won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, has died. He was 84.
Naulls died on Thanksgiving at his home in Laguna Niguel, south of Los Angeles, UCLA said. The cause was respiratory failure resulting from Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare condition that can restrict blood flow to vital organs and tissues.
There was a moment of silence for Naulls before UCLA’s basketball game Wednesday night.
After playing for UCLA from 1954-56, Naulls was selected with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks.
But he spent just 19 games with the Hawks, calling it a “culture shock” to see the segregation that existed in St. Louis, the likes of which he hadn’t seen since he was eight before moving from Dallas to Los Angeles. He was then traded to the Knicks.
Boston won titles in 1964, ’65 and ’66, Naulls’ final three seasons.
Along with Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Tom Sanders, Naulls comprised the first all-black lineup in the history of integrated pro sports in December 1964 when Naulls replaced injured Tom Heinsohn as a starter.
With the Knicks, Naulls became the first black to be named a captain of a pro team in a major American sport. He averaged a double-double (19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds) during his seven-year tenure with the Knicks.
The 6-foot-6 forward also played for the San Francisco Warriors during his 10-year pro career.
Naulls averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds playing for three years at UCLA.
He set UCLA’s single-game rebounding record with 28 against Arizona State on Jan. 28, 1956, a mark that still stands. He led the team in rebounding each of his three seasons.
Playing for future Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, he helped the Bruins win the Pacific Coast Conference title as a senior in 1956, when he earned All-America honors. At the time his college career ended, he was the school’s career leader in points (1,225) and rebounds (900).
After retiring from the NBA, Naulls returned to UCLA and completed his undergraduate degree. He earned a master’s in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in 1993.
Naulls worked with underserved youth for over 50 years and founded a nonprofit organization that raised money for free summer basketball camps for junior high and high school boys.
Naulls is survived by his wife of 40 years, Anne Van de Water Naulls; children Lisa, Shannon, Joanh and Malaika; and six grandchildren.AlertMe