John Wooden

October 14, 1910 – June 4, 2010

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Los Angeles magazine, August 2010

The world will remember John Wooden most as one of the greatest basketball coaches in history. Future generations Googling his name will be presented with a long list of his amazing coaching accomplishments. But those of us who knew him personally, and were lucky enough to be coached by him, will remember him not just as a great coach who changed basketball but as a great man who changed our lives. He didn’t just teach us how to be the best athletes, he taught us how to become the best men we could be. His genius as a coach and mentor lies in the fact that we were hardly aware that these valuable life lessons were being taught. We didn’t realize that all the drills and all the practices and all the instruction were preparing us for the most important part of our lives—the part that came after basketball.

Two memories of Coach Wooden stick out in my mind because each represents a totally different side of him. The first happened when the UCLA team was on the road. We’d just finished dinner in the university dining hall and were walking out through the student union. There were several pool tables lined up. Mike Warren and Lucius Allen both fancied themselves as pool sharks. Mike even had his own customized pool cue. They started shooting around, showing off a little to the rest of us. Suddenly Coach Wooden grabs a cue from the wall and starts drilling balls into the pockets. Bam, bam, bam. Within a couple minutes, he’d run the whole table. We all watched in open-mouthed amazement as he set up elaborate trick shots straight out of The Hustler. When he finally finished his demonstration, I asked how he was able to do that. He grinned and said, “The result of misspent hours of my youth.” It was so hard for me to imagine this upright, pious man as a teenager hunkered over a pool table hustling the locals. …

 

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Photograph courtesy coachwooden.com

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