GREENWICH, Conn. — Gail Goodrich twists the fingers on those massive hands that fit perfectly around a basketball, such big hands for a 6-foot-1 body. He twists the fingers and looks up to the ceiling. His eyes close.
What is Goodrich seeing? The way Walt Hazzard would fake a shot and dish to Goodrich, who would drive and score? The way the UCLA Bruins ran their offense with synchronized brilliance, a silent choreography with the ball never seeming to touch the floor, the players seeming to fly above the court?
Whatever Goodrich sees, it has stopped him from speaking and brought tears to his eyes.
Finally, after three hard swallows, Goodrich whispers, "Yes."
Yes, he will cry today. Yes, he will be proud today.
Finally, years after his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, after having his jersey number retired by his high school, Sun Valley Poly, and by his pro team, the Lakers, Goodrich will stand at center court in Pauley Pavilion where his UCLA No. 25 will be hoisted to the ceiling.
John Wooden, his coach; Jerry Norman, the UCLA assistant who was the first to be wowed by the skinny, left-handed guard at the city tournament; and Keith Erickson, teammate and friend, will join Goodrich. They will recall Goodrich as an excellent shooter, a fearless competitor who drove on players eight or nine inches taller and 100 pounds heavier, eager for the collision so he could shoot free throws. And Goodrich will cry.
"This means a lot to me," Goodrich said. "It's something I didn't think would happen."
It almost didn't.
Goodrich, 61, will become the seventh UCLA men's basketball player whose number has been retired, joining Hazzard (42), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formerly Lew Alcindor, (33); Bill Walton (32), Sidney Wicks (35), Marques Johnson (54) and Ed O'Bannon (31).
"I know Coach Wooden doesn't really believe in having numbers retired," Goodrich said, "but I think he put in a good word for me."
In 1990, UCLA decided to retire the numbers of two men and two women -- Walton, Abdul-Jabbar, Ann Meyers-Drysdale and Denise Curry -- who had been the Bruins' only three-time consensus All-Americans. In 1996, the school expanded the criteria to include those who were consensus national players of the year and retired the numbers of Hazzard, Wicks, Johnson and O'Bannon.
Goodrich's absence from this list was glaring, though.
"He belongs of course," said Erickson.
"What took so long?" said another teammate, Kenny Washington. "I mean, c'mon."
When Dan Guerrero became UCLA athletic director three years ago, he had two questions: "Is there a reason why the court wasn't named for Coach Wooden? And what is the rationale that is keeping Gail Goodrich from having his number retired?"
Last year, the Pauley Pavilion court was named for Wooden and his late wife, Nell.
This year, UCLA administrators decided that anyone who had been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame should be eligible to have his or her number retired.
"I don't like to pick one over the other," Wooden said. "It's like with your own children. But Gail certainly had something special about him. Of course, he knows I've always been against retiring numbers. But since the practice was started, Gail should be there. Most definitely. Gail very much deserves this."
Here's what Goodrich's UCLA teams accomplished:
* His freshman team was UCLA's first to go undefeated.
* His junior team went 30-0 and won UCLA's first national championship.
* His senior team also won the national championship and Goodrich had 42 points, at the time an NCAA championship-game and UCLA record, in the Bruins' victory over Michigan in the national final.
* He was the leading scorer on Wooden's -- and UCLA's -- first two national championship teams.
* He left UCLA as the school's leading scorer, with 1,690 points, and his 24.8-point single-season scoring average in 1965 is still No. 3 in school history and tops among Bruin guards.
Or, as Washington says, "Gail was a special booger. He was a little ol' guy not supposed to do diddly squat. He was not highly recruited, that's the beautiful part of the story. Nobody wanted him, that's real. Nobody wanted him."
Erickson agrees: "Gail was very much underappreciated. Going from high school to college, going from college to the pros, he was always supposed to be too small."
Goodrich's father, Gail, had been USC's basketball captain in 1939 but the Trojans paid no attention to the little son until it was too late.
Wooden first picked him out at the Los Angeles City tournament when Goodrich was a junior.
"I'm watching his team play," Wooden said, "and I notice this little left-hander, sort of small. I see he's a junior and I say I'm going to be watching him. Somebody tapped my shoulder so I turned around and it was Gail's mother, Jean."
"My mom was all ears all the time," Goodrich said. "She told Coach Wooden, 'That's my son you're talking about.' "