A Great Light

Gatinho —  June 5, 2010

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.



to A Great Light

  1. I’m cross-posting a couple comments I made over at SS&R:

    RIP Coach
    When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood where every house had kids my age, and we were all into sports. All of us were in awe of UCLA basketball. The Dodgers and the Bruin basketball team were the two biggest shows in town, with the Lakers and the LA Rams close behind. Whenever UCLA lost a game, which seemed to happen about once every two or three seasons, we would all be in a state of disbelief. We simply didn’t believe it was possible for them to lose a game. I know I had been watching them play for awhile, but the first game I can still remember watching on TV was the UCLA-Houston match-up at the Astrodome in 1968. After Houston and Elvin Hayes won that game by a couple points (Kareem had a scratched cornea), they met in the Final Four, and even at that young age I knew UCLA would absolutely destroy Houston. It was 101-69…ouch.

    I’ve read Coach’s “pyramid of success” more than once. I was hoping that Coach would make it to 100, but I guess he wanted to see Nell sooner.

    by The Dude Abides on Jun 5, 2010 12:23 PM EDT reply actions

    One more thing
    For you “youngsters” out there, until the 1974-75 season, freshmen weren’t NCAA eligible. They had to play for the “frosh” team against frosh teams from other schools. In the Fall of 1965, the Bruins were two-time defending NCAA champions. They were expected to contend again for another title, but they had lost a couple players. So they always opened their season every year by playing the UCLA frosh team. Well, that frosh team destroyed the two-time defending champions, and ruined their confidence for the season. They lost four games in the Pac-8 Conference and came in second. Maybe Lew Alcindor, the best player on that freshman team, had something to do with it. Anyway, only conference champions were allowed to go to the NCAA tournament, and the Pac-8 had no conference tournament. So Texas Western won the NCAAs in 1966, starting five black players and beating Kentucky in the NCAA Final. Kentucky’s coach Adolph Rupp didn’t allow black players on his team. Poetic justice? So even when Wooden didn’t win, magic still happened.



  2. Great post, Gatinho.

    I may be a Lakers fan and the Showtime teams were the ones that made me love this game, but it was Wooden’s teachings that made me think the game.

    All throughout my youth and into my older years, my coaches ran the “UCLA” offense with the high post rub cuts and the weak side screen actions. In high school, my coaches had Wooden’s Pyramid of Success up in our locker room. They preached his philosophies of teamwork and used his axiom’s daily.

    “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

    “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

    “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

    “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

    “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

    I was never blessed enough to meet the man or attend his famous camps, but I can say that he influenced my basketball life as much as any coach or player that I’ve ever been in contact with.

    The basketball world lost a titan with the passing of Wooden.

    RIP, Coach.


  3. Kurt has a great post up at PBT as well. After reading it, it’s obvious that Wooden may have passed on, but he’ll live forever. And not just in the history books, but in the lives of the people he’s affected. In his teachings that will be passed on for generations to come.



  4. Just heard on the Kamenetzky radio show that Jack Kent Cooke offered Wooden the Lakers head coaching job in ’72.


  5. A good link with John Wooden talking. Intelligent person, it is worth to listen.



  6. Man look at that video. I can;’t tell who else is in there, but I think AC, Luke, Tex and Wooden… and I’m sure everyone got Wooden’s autograph.

    I hope he is happy with his wife Nelly now.


  7. New post is up. It’s game two, so you know what we’re talking…adjustments.



  8. Thanks Coach Wooden, you left behind a wonderful legacy! We’ll miss you, RIP!