Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden

The world has lost a coaching legend. John Wooden, UCLA's legendary basketball coach, died at the age of 99 last night. The man, known affectionately by his players as "Coach", brought small town values to the bright lights and big stage of college basketball in Los Angeles. For years, players have swapped Wooden-stories like trading cards with reverence rarely seen in the sporting world; like the time Wooden told Bill Walton they'd take the team picture without him unless he shaved his beard; or the fact that Wooden began the first practice of every season by teaching his players how to put on their socks and shoes.

John Wooden strove to teach his players the limitations of a life devoted to basketball. Ironically perhaps, the man who never saw basketball as the ultimate became the most successful coach the game has ever seen. Wooden won ten National Championships while at UCLA, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. He led UCLA to an NCAA record 88 game winning streak and coached 4 teams who finished the regular season undefeated (30-0). On the eve of the 1975 NCAA Championship game (which UCLA won), he announced his retirement, walking away after winning his tenth championship in twelve years. The man clearly knew what he was doing.

John Wooden's humble disposition became a breath of fresh air as the world of basketball became increasingly ego-centric. Coach's "team first" lessons stand in stark contrast to a sport now characterized by individual expression, statistics, and notoriety. Still, his wisdom and clever anecdotes will extend Wooden's influence long after his death. Maybe it is because I am heartless, but it isn't often that the death of someone I never knew, celebrity or otherwise, affects me emotionally. However, I can honestly say that, as I think on Wooden's death, I am melancholy. A few months ago I posted a video of John Wooden speaking about his definition of success. I've posted it again below. May John Wooden's message of faith in Jesus, humility, and teamwork live on.

- Joel

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