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Summer 2000 Coach!
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John Wooden was the most successful coach in college basketball history, but for him, winning never really was the name of the game. His life, both on and off the court, has been a lesson in what's really important

By Cal Fussman
Photography by Gerald Forster

At exactly 10 o'clock- right on time-he looked out the window of his condo in Encino and waved me in.

It was the first time I'd ever carried two tape recorders with me. But I had traveled 2,200 miles and I didn't want to risk malfunction, didn't want to miss a word. This, for me, was to be more than a mere magazine interview. This was to be a chance to have a conversation with John Wooden, a man who has lived as profound a life as any I can imagine.

Greeting me at the door, he looked pretty much the same as he did on TV during all those NCAA tournaments though, at 89, he was moving slowly. It's said the eyes are windows to the soul; Wooden's are as blue and welcoming as a spring sky. On our way to the living room where we would talk, we passed pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. He was still buttoning his shirt as we walked. For some reason that made me feel at home. My first question was if watermelon tasted better in 1920 than it does today.

Coach Wooden, who will turn 90 in October, spoke about the lessons his parents taught him growing up in Indiana. He recalled how all of his savings had been stolen by bank officers on the eve of his wedding. He spoke lovingly of his wife, Nell, who died in 1985 (each month on the 21st he still writes her a love letter, folding it neatly and placing it among a growing stack tied with yellow ribbon atop her pillow). He talked of his children, James and Nancy, and seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He talked about mashed potatoes-how he liked them prepared without a single lump-and fried chicken.


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