A Little Memory of John Wooden

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Many people who knew John Wooden much better than I are recounting stories of him today, and I have no original pictures. But I can’t let his passing go completely unmentioned here. Wooden graduated to Heaven yesterday, at 99.

The last time I saw John Wooden was spring of ’72. He came out a side door at Pauley Pavilion, just as I approached, and he gave me a little smile and nod of his head. It was the same door I’d seen Haile Selassie exit from four years earlier, but I’d gotten neither a smile nor a nod on that occasion. Selassie was the reigning emperor of Ethiopia. Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood,” was the reigning king of college basketball. He’d just won the 8th of his eventual ten NCAA National Championships. At UCLA, his genius was more recognized than any of our Nobel Prize winners. If it had been his nature to be as imperial as Selassie, he had earned the right.

Wooden had given a guest lecture a few weeks earlier in one of my kinesiology classes, but I can’t imagine he still recognized me. I was just one of 35,000 students at UCLA., but more than anything else, Wooden was a teacher. All 35,000 of us were his students, and I got a smile.

I’ve read that after ten national championships he was most proud that his teams ranked highest in number of athletes who actually graduated. I became acquainted with some of those young men, Terry Schofield, Sven Nader, and Keith (later, Jamaal) Wilkes. He recruited athletes of fine character, not just physical prowess. Among his many personal accomplishments, he was proudest of winning the Big Ten Academic Achievement Award (during the year he also led his team to the conference championship) for the highest GPA. He was a remarkable man, a gentleman scholar, and a servant of God, and I was blessed by the little bit he touched my life.

(In poking around on the web, I find this interview with Wooden, in which he quotes a poem written by Sven Nader. Nader lived in our dorm during my sophomore year [as did Wilkes, Bill Walton, and the rest of the freshmen team]. I remember Sven's beautiful singing voice. Seven-footers have a lot of lung capacity.)


If you coach young people, whether in the classroom or on the court/field, John Wooden has spoken to you.

Or you are not listening.


Steve said...
July 12, 2010 at 10:44 PM  

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