Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden - More than a Coach, Simply a Teacher

"What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player."

That quote sums up Coach John Wooden's life. Without question, the measure of what he taught and how he lived transcends what he did as a Hall of Fame player and a legendary coach. He was a living testament of practicing what you preach and for generations of fans, he inspired us all.

When I was starting to be a fan of UCLA in the mid-90's, I immediately knew the legacy of Coach and his 10 titles. My junior high/high school was filled with teachers with ties to Westwood so I knew his story as well as I learned anything in class. I remember reading a book of his maxims and his biography "They call me Coach". Here is a man that spoke to me as a teenager although I was born nine years after his last game.

"Be quick, but don't hurry" and "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail" defined my high school days. Every time I walked into Pauley Pavilion, those banners spoke loud and clear of his impact and every time the scoreboard showed Coach in his customary seat, you'd get chills as everyone always stood and applauded.

John Wooden reached the peak of his success during the 60's and 70's - a crazy time in America where racial/social upheaval was at its climax. Despite the changing times, this man of principle stuck to his guns and convinced young men aged 18-21 to get in line. Teaching grown men to tie their shoes? Play with discipline when the times said don't trust anyone over 40? The motto was simple:

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."

Team first. Individuals second. Just look at how his charges responded. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went from superstar in the 70's to Magic's sidekick in the 80's who still produced in his late 30's. Bill Walton went from a star center to 6th Man of the Year with the 86 Celtics. Jamaal Wilkes was a key role player for the Lakers in the 70's and 80's. Just to name a few.

A disciplinarian with patience. He was hard on his players because he wanted them to be the best on the court and honorable men off it. Respect the game, respect each other.

His first and last championship teams were called his favorites. No stars, just precise play and unity. They defined who Wooden was just as much as the star laden teams of his peak. A well oiled machine who could plug in any parts and still steer it the same.

"Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character." - Here's why he won 10 national titles, folks.

But Coach remained an English teacher at heart. He didn't just teach the game, he taught life. His gift with words was only rivaled by his down-to-earth persona. His pyramid of success remains a testament to how he used values to uplift his fellow man, not belittle them as many do. Maybe thats why I admired him - so many wise sayings that required you to act not just listen.

I had the privilege to meet Coach Wooden on an assignment 3 years ago at UCLA. He was present at a book signing for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's latest effort and I asked him how he felt about one of his prized pupils. To hear him speak at 96 - he still had a presence, still spoke with clarity and spoke with purpose. It's still one of the highlights of my career and my life to meet one of my heroes and mentors.

A Los Angeles treasure, basketball royalty, sports immortal, teacher emeritus, life coach extraordinaire. This is a man who we can all learn from whether or not you love sports or not.

Ephesians 6:2-3 says to honor your parents so that your days will be long on the Earth. John Wooden honored his father's advice to be humble, not taking anything for granted and practice what you preach. Now my heart is sad that he's gone but also happy that he's reunited with the love of his life, Nell. He didn't fear death because of her and I know they have 25 years of love letters to catch up on.

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Thank you Coach

No comments:

Post a Comment