Rod Hundley, basketball’s irrepressible Hot Rod, who parlayed showmanship on the court with flair at the microphone to become a fan favorite for more than half a century, died on Friday at his home near Phoenix. He was 80.
Hundley was an electrifying presence at West Virginia University, played for the Lakers and stamped his persona on broadcasting, mostly for the New Orleans Jazz.
“Nobody did the things I did on the court and nobody has done them since,” Hundley said of his collegiate exploits in “Hot Rod Hundley: You Gotta Love It Baby!” (2012), written with Tom McEachin. “I’d shoot behind my back, sit on the other team’s bench and really work the crowd. I was a Globetrotter in college basketball.”
Hundley drove West Virginia to basketball prominence in the mid-1950s with his hot shooting and his antics, which included hook shots for free throws and hanging on the rim to await a lob pass.
A two-time all-American, Hundley preceded the future Hall of Famer Jerry West at West Virginia and was his teammate with the Lakers. They became two of the most celebrated figures in their home state.
“Hot Rod was the real first basketball hero in West Virginia,” West told Terry Pluto in the pro basketball oral history “Tall Tales” (1992). “He was like a Pied Piper; people were just drawn to him.”
Fred Schaus, Hundley’s coach at West Virginia and later with the Lakers, recalled: “In the middle 1950s, college basketball was coming off the scandals and it needed a shot in the arm, someone to bring the fans back. That’s what Hot Rod did.”
Hundley was a two-time All-Star guard in the N.B.A., playing with the Lakers for three seasons in Minneapolis and another three in Los Angeles, though he fell short of the expectations spawned by his college career.
He was a broadcaster for the Lakers, the Phoenix Suns, CBS and then, for a long stretch, the New Orleans Jazz and its successor franchise, the Utah Jazz. Hundley’s fast-paced style at the microphone, his wit and his storehouse of knowledge about the Jazz’s history made him one of the most recognizable personalities in Utah.
Rodney Clark Hundley was born in Charleston, W.Va., on Oct. 26, 1934, the only child of parents who divorced when he was young and sent him to live with relatives and at friends’ homes. His real homes were a Y.M.C.A. basketball court and the pool halls where he smoked, drank and pocketed more than his share of shots.
After setting West Virginia high school scoring records, the 6-foot-4 Hundley played for West Virginia University from 1954 to 1957, helping take the Mountaineers to their first three appearances in the N.C.A.A. tournament and averaging 24.5 points a game. He was an all-American in his junior and senior years.
The Cincinnati Royals selected Hundley with the first overall pick of the 1957 N.B.A. draft, but they immediately traded him to the Minneapolis Lakers.
Hundley played in two N.B.A. All-Star Games with the Lakers franchise, but he had knee problems, loved the night life and by his own admission lost confidence in his shooting. He averaged only 8.4 points a game for his six pro seasons but twice finished in the N.B.A.’s top 10 for single-season assists.
Hundley was the voice of the Jazz from 1974, when they entered the N.B.A. as an expansion team in New Orleans, until his retirement from the Salt Lake City-based Jazz in 2009.
His wit was especially evident one night when Utah forward Truck Robinson did not attend an anticipated postgame interview. Hundley asked his questions anyway, answered them, and wound up the “interview” by handing a gift certificate to the invisible Robinson as thanks for his nonappearance.
Hundley was sometimes viewed as an early version of the flashy Pete Maravich, who went from Louisiana State University to the New Orleans Jazz in the team’s inaugural season. When Maravich made a tough shot, Hundley might exclaim, “A gentle push, a mild arc and the cowhide globe hits home!” Hundley was a keen basketball analyst, and in 2003 he became the first former player to receive the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Hundley left West Virginia about 12 credits short of a degree. But he eventually submitted papers to the university on subjects including broadcast journalism to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2000.
He had come a long way since his days as a young man whom no one wanted and who hung out at pool halls. But he could look back wryly on those troubled years.
“I gave a speech the other night and I started off telling how I had a pool table in my house,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1965. “I told them I wanted my children to have the same advantages that I had.”