May 20, 2008
Legendary coach John Wooden on Tuesday became the first basketball figure inducted into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's Court of Honor.
Local dignitaries and sports figures lauded Coach Wooden, making his first public appearance since a fall at home sent him to the hospital earlier this year. UCLA alumnus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bruins' coach Ben Howland and Dodgers announcer Vin Scully were among the speakers.
Though the 97-year-old Coach Wooden arrived in a wheelchair, he was in good humor. "You think I'll be able to fly out of here when I leave?" he joked, referring to all the praise directed his way.
Coach Wooden entertained the gathering with poetry and with his humor. He said he was honored that his plaque was being added alongside Scully's and those of athletes who starred in the Coliseum and adjacent Sports Arena. "I can't understand why a basketball guy would be here ... [but] that's fine."
Coliseum Commission president David Israel called it appropriate that Coach Wooden became the first "basketball guy" in the Court of honor. "He's John Wooden," Israel said.
UCLA played at the Sports Arena from 1959 until 1965 then moved to Pauley Pavilion.
Scully called Coach Wooden "a genius in his ability to inspire." Abdul-Jabbar summed up the feelings of those present to honor Wooden: "We love you, coach."
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said, "Of everyone at UCLA, John Wooden's name is the best known nationwide. He produced not just good players but good people."
Israel opened the program by introducing members of the Coliseum Commission in attendance. Coliseum Commission Vice-President Zev Zaroslavsky made some remarks, and then introduced Scully. The longtime Dodger announcer related a story about his first meeting with Coach Wooden, when the Bruin coach opened a gate at an apartment complex for Scully, his arms full of groceries.
Howland followed Scully to the podium and talk about the honor he feels being the caretaker of Coach Wooden's program. Next came Chancellor Block, followed by UCLA Athletic director Dan Guerrero and former Bruin players Abdul-Jabbar and Keith Erickson.
Others in attendance included UCLA alumnus Rafer Johnson, 1960 Olympic decathlon winner who lit the Olympic torch at the Coliseum for the 1984 Opening Ceremonies, and coach Wooden's daughter, Nan Muehlhausen.