In 1919, the UCLA Bruins were born out of necessity when the University of California needed a southern campus to accommodate the scores of students pursuing a higher education in the Golden State. It didn’t happen overnight, but since 1950, there’s absolutely no school more synonymous with success than the institution in Los Angeles. With more than 100 NCAA team championships, the Bruins are truly the gold standard in the world of college sports.
In keeping with the ties to their elders, the Cal-Berkeley Bears, early UCLA teams were known by monikers such as the Cubs and Grizzlies. However, when the school joined the Pacific Coast Conference in 1926, the University of Montana was already using the latter nickname. This led the school formerly known as Southern Branch to adopt the regal Bruin handle, and the rest as they say, is history.
While the football program would be named UPI national champs in 1954, UCLA didn’t truly emerge as a power until 1964 when the men’s basketball team took its first title. With coach John Wooden at the helm and all-time greats on the court such as Bill Walton (1971-74) and Lew Alcindor (1967-69), better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Bruins captured NCAA crowns in 1964, ‘65, ‘67, ‘68, ‘69, ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, ‘73 and ‘75. The seven straight titles were staggering enough, but the streak also spanned a remarkable 88 consecutive wins and 38 tournament victories in a row. The first coach to post four undefeated campaigns, Wooden was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973 for a second time (he was already enshrined for his accomplishments as a player in 1960).
Coinciding with the incredible run by the Bruins hoops squad, Pauley Pavilion became UCLA’s home court in 1965. One of the most celebrated indoor arenas in the country, the Pavilion houses not only the school’s basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics teams, but also the Den, the university’s feverishly devoted student body cheering section. There was concern that Wooden’s departure in ‘75 would take the luster out of the hallowed halls, but the clever fanbase carried on by developing a slew of in-game traditions that would keep Westwood rocking. “The Frisbee Cheer,” an engaging call-and-response number, is arguably the most well-known. Den Leaders play a veritable game of eye-spy by asking questions about what a basketball looks like, where the court is located, and most essentially, pointing at the opposition and pondering “Is that the losing team?” Another Bruin fan calling card is their version of player introductions. As pregame warmups draw to a close, diehards call out the names of UCLA players and don’t stop chanting until the player in question turns around and acknowledges the crowd.
In addition to the legacy established by Wooden and Alcindor, the Bruins athletics program has produced Olympic gold medalists Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Gail Devers, as well as baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. The school in Westwood may have entered the world as support for a larger university, but countless NCAA titles have made it clear that UCLA is second to none.