John Wooden, 1910 – 2010


Abdul-Jabbar, left, with Wooden and Sidney Wicks.

UCLA’s grandest person coach John Wooden has died this evening at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Hospital. “This is a sad day at UCLA,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement released by the school. “Coach Wooden’s legacy transcends athletics; what he did was produce leaders.”

I had the great luck of meeting Coach Wooden on campus several times at the Faculty Center. He was always surrounded by a table-full of people, no less than 9 others seated around him. I always approached and him and shook his hand to say hello. He was one of those people who you could learn a lot from just by being near him.

As a man of complete wisdom, he did 1% of the talking and 99% of the listening. It’s going to be very sad around campus on Monday.


Abdul-Jabbar and Wooden at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion, home to Bruin basketball.

Before there was the Zen of Coach Phil Jackson, there was that of Coach Wooden as described by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

“To lead the way Coach Wooden led takes a tremendous amount of faith. He was almost mystical in his approach, yet that approach only strengthened our confidence. Coach Wooden enjoyed winning, but he did not put winning above everything. He was more concerned that we became successful as human beings, that we earned our degrees, that we learned to make the right choices as adults and as parents.

“In essence,” Abdul-Jabbar concluded, “he was preparing us for life.”

Things to consider:

He retired in 1975, saying he had lost desire. He left with a 620-147 record in 27 years at U.C.L.A. and a 40-year head coaching record of 885-203.

Wooden created a sports dynasty against which all others are compared, and usually pale. His teams at U.C.L.A. won 10 national championships in a 12-season stretch from 1964 to 1975. From 1971 to 1974, U.C.L.A. won 88 consecutive games, still the N.C.A.A. record.

Four of Wooden’s teams finished with 30-0 records, including his first championship team, which featured no starters taller than 6 feet 5 inches.

Here is a photo tribute to Coach John Wooden at UCLA.

Pictures in this blog post are from New York Times.

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