Saturday, June 5, 2010

Basketball Coach John Wooden Dies

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden died yesterday at the age of 99 years. I remarked to someone that the world was a lesser place now that Mr. Wooden was gone and he would be missed. The person didn't know who he was! I explained that John Wooden was a most extraordinary basketball coach, but he was something more then merely a basketball coach. He was a teacher, and a mentor. He worked through his teaching and coaching, and later through books and speeches. Ironically, he
may have made his biggest impact in retirement, through the books and speeches, then he did coaching a select lucky few athletes at UCLA.


Mr. Wooden was born in farm country in Indiana. He picked up the hoops at an early age, and helped his high school win several state championships. He attended Purdue University where he attained a degree and helped the school win a basketball championship and he was player of the year in 1932. After graduation, he taught English and coached hoops at a Kentucky high school, and in South Bend, IN. His career, as many were, was interrupted for WWII. He served in the Navy. After his Navy days were over, he began his college coaching career at Indiana State University. He had a consistently winning record there. However, his most famous moment there was when he declined an invite to the NAIA tournament because Black players would not be allowed to play. One of his players testified: "You don't know our coach. He doesn't see color. He just sees ball players."

He started his career coaching at the University of California Los Angeles in 1948 and coached there through 1975. His record there is well known, 10 NCAA championships, no losing seasons,

one perfect season, and a record streak of 88 games without a loss. He left UCLA a winner in 1975, after the team took him to the tenth NCAA crown.

He married his wife Nellie in 1932, and he testified that she was the love of his life and his support all through his career. She passed away in 1985. They had two children together.

Why is John Wooden's passing a loss? All he did was coach a game. However, he took time to share with the world the philosophies and ideas behind his coaching success. And this interested people, because he was successful. Every placed he coached he had a winning record, except for his very first year coaching in Kentucky. This despite the often cosmic cultural changes going on around him and his players. Even today, with his kids pushing 75 he is beloved by the students at UCLA, and right up to the end, he continued to make himself available for speaking and teaching.

His books read like self help tomes in many ways, but also they contained so much truth and common sense. In addition, when you read his biographical material, especially later in life, you find that he was not a perfect man. But he worked to learn from every mistake he made.

Just from looking on the outside at John Wooden and his life, I see an amazingly successful leader, whose students and players loved him almost universally. Most of his players went on to be successful people in life. John Wooden had figured out some things about life and how to succeed at it. He did not keep them secret but shared them with others freely. His quotes are some of the best. Oh, and one other thing: John Wooden was a committed Christian, who prayed that if he were being persecuted for his faith that there would be enough evidence to convict him. He never displayed his faith ostentatiously, but lived the kind of life that made you wonder: "How does he do that? What's his strength? And where can I get some?"

My personal favorite quote of John Wooden's: Be quick but don't hurry. Here are more of his quotes as assembled by ESPN.

pictures stolen from various spots on the net, top to bottom: Wooden celebrates with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others, speaking to Special Olympics kids in 2008, informal portrait from the 1990s, coaching Bill Walton.

4 comments:

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I know him through his books. He was indeed a very wise man. Thanks for the heads-up on his passing. The world is a loser thereby.

Ann T.

peedee said...

I heard he was gravely ill the other day and hoped his passing would be peaceful.

What an amazing man. Utterly amazing. I always loved seeing his quotes in everyday life. Because as you said, even though he was "just a coach" he was sooo much more. A supreme human being who lived life how we all wish we could. Or at least I do. =)

The world is indeed less bright today.

RIP John Wooden, Fair winds and following seas.

Brett Klassen said...

RIP Mr. John Wooden
He'll be missed. He truly is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time.

the observer said...

Ann T, peedee and Brett:
I have to admit I didn't appreciate John Wooden in his coaching days--the first 15 years of my life--ULCA just seemed like one of those annoying programs that won everything. However, I have really come to appreciate Mr. Wooden as I grew older. He's a one of a kind, and he will be missed. Thanks for stopping by and taking a minute to miss him too.

The Observer