Summer 2000 Coach!
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WOODEN: SIMPLY THE BEST
Bill Walton '74
Wooden was hired at UCLA to coach basketball, but what he really
taught during his 27 years in Westwood was life.
other schools were recruiting us with promises of material and personal
success, John Wooden talked about coming to UCLA as an opportunity
to be a part of something special, to train our minds and to learn
how to think, to dream and to achieve peak performance. And oh,
by the way, if we lived up to our responsibilities as a student
and as a human being, we would earn the privilege of becoming a
member of the UCLA basketball team.
he was a standout as a player at Purdue, John Wooden did not come
to basketball with the physical prowess that enabled others to dominate
their sport. Nor does he have a consuming, overwhelming personality
to give him complete control. What he does have, to this very day
at age 89, is a heart, brain and soul that have enabled him to inspire
others to reach levels of success and peace of mind that they might
never have dreamed possible on their own.
the while he guides us-I speak in the present tense because he guides
me still. He is constantly pushing underlying themes, particularly
his belief that basketball, like life, is not a game of size and
strength but a game of skill, timing and position. It is not how
tall you are, he drills us, but how tall you play. It is not how
high you jump, but where and when you jump. He drives us in directions
we are not aware of, always with the selfless goal of making us
better, even down to the minutia of how to properly put on our socks
and uniforms. He rarely tells us the what or why; rather, he shows
us the how and lets us come to the rest of the answer on our own.
He never talks about winning or losing, but about the effort to
win. He never talks about strategy or statistics or plays; he discusses
people and character. And he constantly reminds us that once we
become good people, we then have the chance to become good basketball
players-or whatever else we may want to do in life.
did not understand the full extent of his approach while we were
living our dreams at UCLA. We thought he was nuts, a walking antique
and more than a bit crazy. It wasn't until after I'd graduated and
encountered the adversity he told us would be there that it started
to dawn on me just how special it had been at UCLA. When I left
UCLA in 1974 and became the highest-paid player in the history of
team sports at that time, the quality of my life went down. That's
how special it was to have played for John Wooden and UCLA.
spent the 26 years since leaving UCLA trying to duplicate that period
in my life. Our home is a shrine to UCLA and John Wooden, with memorabilia,
the Pyramid of Success and pictures of him everywhere. I have taken
my four sons to his house to receive from him the same great lessons
of life that I received. I am closer to John Wooden today than I've
ever been. While I was at UCLA, I was a player and he was my coach.
Today we are friends. I call him regularly, probably too much, and
go to see him as often as I can, always insisting that we sit in
his den, his sanctuary, a museum of the history of basketball and
life that has remained unchanged over the years. It is an incredible
place: so inspiring. So bright. So positive. So John Wooden. On
October 14, he will turn 90. He remains the same teacher, the same
positive force he has always been, the person we would all like
to become, only better.
joy in John Wooden's life today comes, as it always has, from the
success of others. He regularly tells me what he learned from his
two favorite teachers-Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa-is that
a life not lived for others is not a life.
that measure, John Wooden's is a giant life. He is still our guide
in so many ways, with us each and every day to push, shape, mold,
challenge and drive us to be better. I thank John Wooden daily for
all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision and, especially,
is why we call him Coach.