Jack Haley dies at 51; O.C. surfer played basketball at UCLA and in NBA

Jack Haley, Orange County native who excelled at surfing before playing UCLA, NBA basketball, dies at 51

Jack Haley, who went from surfer to the UCLA basketball team to the NBA, has died. He was 51.

Haley died Monday at Los Alamitos Medical Center from heart disease, his family said.

In a statement Tuesday, Haley's family said, "He cherished every moment and gave 100% whether on or off the court. And more than anything, Jack dearly loved his family. We are humbled and grateful for the outpouring of love, support and prayers from around the country."

The son of a world-class surfer, the 6-foot-10 Haley did not play basketball in high school. He picked up the sport at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, then spent three seasons at UCLA. He was taken in the fourth round of the 1987 draft by the Chicago Bulls and spent nine seasons in the NBA.

In Haley's journeyman career, he did two stints with the Bulls and New Jersey Nets, and he also played for the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

"Jack was a hard worker and always very professional," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "He was proud to wear the Lakers uniform, and he was always a credit to our organization and the Lakers family."

An aggressive player, Haley became known for his close relationship with offbeat forward Dennis Rodman — the two were teammates with the Bulls and Spurs. But Haley bristled at being referred to as "Rodman's babysitter," a term he felt was disrespectful of his own basketball abilities.

"That's the kind of stuff that irks you," Haley, who played power forward and center in the pros, told the Seattle Times in 1996. "I want to be known for who I am, what I do. I'm a professional basketball player. I've been in the NBA eight years. I've played at UCLA. You like to be given some credit."

Haley took a different path to the gym. He was born Jan. 27, 1964, and grew up in Seal Bach, where he was drawn to surfing as a boy. His father, Jack Haley Sr., was the 1959 U.S. Surfing champion and later opened a surfboard shop and restaurant, where his son worked.

Haley was 6 feet 8 as a senior at Huntington Beach High, but he preferred surfing to team sports. He was captain of the school's surf team.

A pickup basketball game, which Haley said he played barefoot, resulted in an invitation to join the Golden West team in 1983. UCLA recruited Haley after center Stuart Gray declared early for the NBA draft.

Haley was told he probably would not play at UCLA but ended up starting as a junior and senior. He averaged 3.7 points and 4.4 rebounds during his UCLA career and was part of the 1985 team that won the National Invitation Tournament.

In a 1988 Chicago Tribune story, Haley said about his UCLA career, "It motivates me when people say I can't do something."

No one gave Haley much of a chance in the NBA, but he joined the Chicago Bulls in 1988. He played one minute without a point in his first game and would often joke, "I'll always remember it as the night Michael Jordan and I combined for 52 points."

Haley's humor made him popular with sportswriters and teammates. But the laughs stopped on the court, where Haley was a fierce competitor. In 1998, Jordan said in the Chicago Tribune, "When I heard that they were bringing Haley in, I thought, 'Uh oh, this is gonna be a tough camp.'"

Haley's friendship with the aloof and often difficult Rodman became the focal point of his career during the 1990s. The two played together in San Antonio and Chicago. Haley was on the Bulls' 1995-96 championship team, though he appeared in only one game because of injury.

But Haley had a productive role in two seasons with the Nets.

After his playing career ended, Haley worked as a commentator on Laker TV broadcasts.

Haley never forgot his surfing roots and would often joke, "I don't know if I'm the world's tallest surfer. But I think I'm one of the world's best for being 6-10."

Haley's personality helped earn him small roles in the movies "Eddie" and "Rebound." He also appeared in the Aerosmith video for the song "Love in an Elevator."

Haley is survived by his sons Jack Jr., who also played basketball at UCLA, and Jeffrey; his mother, Jeanette; his sister, Sondra, and his brother, Tim.

No funeral services were announced.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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