Coach John Wooden, who passed away yesterday at the age of 99, was a father, husband, teacher, and coach.
The lessons he left behind will be mined for their wisdom for ages to come.
He is by far the most decorated college coach in the history of the game, but his legacy is not measured by those accolades, but by the impact he has had on players, coaches, and all who encountered him.
What separated him from the ranks of the ordinary can be summed up in his own words.
“Love has dominated my coaching career”
He eschewed more lucrative coaching offers to remain a teacher of young men.
His love of language led him to collect and disperse all manner of sayings and poems that embodied his philosophy on life. He in turn translated that into his coaching philosophy.
“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
Although his basketball acumen was unparalleled, it was his strong character that left an indelible mark on those who crossed his path.
“They ask my why I teach and I reply, ‘Where could I find more splendid company?’”
In 2008, I was honored to be Coach Wooden’s escort at a charity event. Here is a recount of a typical moment of Coach touching those around him:
But Wooden’s time with the crowd made us all feel blessed to be in his presence.
The gym fell silent as we all bent an ear to grasp at the pearls of wisdom he was dispensing.
He was asked about a pivotal moment in his life, and he immediately began to talk about his “wonderful father”.
It was his father that gave him a small card at age 12 that contained the basic philosophy that has now become The Wooden Pledge and The Pyramid of Success.
One point on the card was “Be true to yourself.”
Thoughts immediately turned to Polonius’ quote from Hamlet, and before we knew it, he was reciting the passage…
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
He was asked how he bridged the gap between his so-called star players and his role players. His answer spoke to his greatest asset as a man, his profound decency.
“I loved them as people, not just as basketball players.”
Coach John Wooden
Coach Wooden is survived by a son, James, of Orange County, Calif.; a daughter, Nancy Wooden, who lives in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley; three grandsons and four granddaughters; and 13 great-grandchildren.