By David Socier, Pueblo Chieftain
For all his accomplishments in the basketball world as a player and coach, Bill Hanzlik will go down as one of Colorado’s biggest boosters of pure sports – you know, the kind that has nothing to do with money.
Hanzlik, 44, was enshrined in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame for a myriad of reasons, any one of them enough for admittance to that prestigious throne room. The man’s baggage includes a litany of athletic accomplishments. However, what has made him prouder, made him mega-worthy of induction, are his efforts on behalf of some 20,000-school kids who play basketball, volleyball and golf each year because of his endeavors as CEO of the Gold Crown Foundation.
Hanzlik and Ray Baker, with a passion for helping kids, founded Gold Crown in 1986. The nonprofit organization has blossomed from a weeklong basketball camp for girls to a statewide extravaganza dedicated to improving the lives of Colorado’s children through athletics and education. A huge Denver playing facility opened last year, but there are still “road games” along the Front Range for participants in junior high and elementary school.
None of this would have crossed Hanzlik’s mind as he grew up in the mid-1970s, a 6-foot-7 All-State guard at Wisconsin’s Beloit High School where he caught the eye of Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. A defensive specialist by trade, using exceptional quickness and tenacity along with sharp elbows, long arms and long, wiry legs, Hanzlik helped the Fighting Irish to the NCAA Final Four in 1978 and co-captained the 1980 team.
The mechanical Engineering graduate was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball team, but an unfortunate boycott kept that squad out of the Moscow Games.
Then came the bombshell. Just as Hanzlik had caught Digger’s eye, he now stood out as a “need” for Seattle Supersonics coach Lenny Wilkins. After averaging only 7.5 points a game at Notre Dame, Hanzlik was the 20th player drafted overall in 1980. Seattle’s pick raised eyebrows. Criticism in the Northwest was harsh…but Wilkins knew what he was doing.
Hanzlik played two productive years as a Sonic starter. On July 20, 1982, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets for David Thompson. By that time, the groundwork was laid for Hanzlik’s reputation as a fierce competitive defender. At Denver, if needed, he would guard 7-foot-2 Ralph Sampson. If needed, he would guard 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul Jabbar. This wasn’t a usual gig, but it points out the over-achievement of a man who nightly guarded backcourt super studs like Reggie Theus and Magic Johnson.
The Nugget’s made the playoffs eight times during Hanzlik’s 1982-91 tenure and won the 1984-85 and 1987-88 Midwest Division titles. Averaging a career high 13 points per game in 1986-87, he ranks among team leaders in games played (593), assists (1,764), scoring (4,546 points) and rebounds (1,839). Turning to coaching, Hanzlik was an assistant for six years with the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks. He was then the Nuggets’ 1997-98 head coach, but after that one-year stint, he embraced Gold Crown totally, residing in Englewood, Colorado with his wife Maribeth and children Meghan, Mollie, Robby and Gillian.
A Wisconsin All-Stater, Notre Dame co-captain, Olympic team member, first round NBA draft choice, eight-season Denver Nuggets defender, NBA head coach and Nuggets television color analyst. A worthy résumé, indeed. Add that a million Front Range kids will look back and thank Uncle Hanz and Uncle Ray for their concern, effort and tireless work with the Gold Crown Foundation and you have the “honor and glory to Colorado” credential sought by this Hall of Fame. Bill Hanzlik has supplied it in spades.
If a kid has a passion, parents will go to any extreme, It’s amazing the things parents will do for their kids