Oct. 14, 2009
John Robert Wooden, an American icon and legendary basketball coach, is celebrating his 99th birthday today - October 14. He is spending the day with his family, which includes two children - Nan Muehlhausen and Jim Wooden - seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of fans who have sent birthday cards and emails to me as I celebrate my 99th birthday today," Coach Wooden said.
Born in Hall, IN on October 14, 1910, Coach Wooden became one of the most successful coaches in sports history. This past summer, he was named the greatest coach ever in any sport by a panel of experts assembled by Sporting News.
Coach Wooden spent 27 years (1948-49 through 1974-75) as the head men's basketball coach at UCLA, establishing a dynasty that will never be equaled. In his final 12 seasons as head coach, UCLA won 10 NCAA championships, including seven straight from 1967-73. His teams appeared in 11 Final Fours in those 12 years, including the last nine. UCLA won 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament games and 88 straight contests over parts of four seasons.
But, John Wooden was more than a coach. He was, and still is, a teacher - of basketball, of education and of life. Over the years, his former players have commented how the principles Coach Wooden taught them while they were at UCLA have served them throughout their lives.
"I can hardly believe that Coach Wooden is celebrating his 99th birthday," says Michael Warren, who started on two NCAA championships teams and has enjoyed a successful career as an actor. "Coach has had a tremendous impact on my life.
"Having had him as a basketball coach, the experience was unparalleled. As my coach, I learned how to play basketball well, but as a friend and as an extraordinary example for me over the last 35 years or so, I have learned how to live my life better. He is uniquely special and is truly one of the great men in American History. I love him and I honor him by saying, Happy Birthday, Coach. There will never be another human being like you. May God continue shining His light on you."
"Because of Coach Wooden's mentoring I have never felt uncomfortable being a scholar in addition to being an athlete," said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the greatest player in the history of the game who starred on three NCAA championship teams and earned numerous NCAA Player of the Year and All-America honors playing for Coach Wooden. "The graduation rate of athletes who played for Coach Wooden is over 65%. You will not find a more successful accomplishment for any NCAA coach who has ran a program as long as Coach Wooden did. It is his most cherished achievement and he feels that his "boys" are the jewels in his crown. "I am very proud to be one of his `boys' and I want to wish him and his family thanks and congratulations for what they have accomplished and what they have meant to my life. Happy Birthday Coach. May Allah bless you and yours."
To read more on Kareem's thoughts about Coach Wooden visit kareemabduljabbar.com.
Bill Walton, who also played on two NCAA title teams while also earning numerous Player of the Year and All-America honors, wrote a birthday piece to Coach for the L.A. Daily News.
"I wanted to write and wish you the happiest of birthdays as you hit # 99 this year," Walton wrote. "Go for it all, Coach. You deserve the best and so much more. Bask in the glory and bathe yourself in the kindness and glowing warmth that is always coming your way.
"It is so neat that your birthday always immediately precedes the start of the basketball season--sort of the natural progression of things, I guess. Cake, song and laughter one day, practice the next. I remember vividly a couple of your recent birthday parties that I was most fortunate to be able to attend. I am well aware that you don't much care for this sort of thing---with all the attention and focus on you-- but the time at VIPS when Jamaal Wilkes had the birthday hat and party favors, and you got up to leave early because you were so embarrassed. We were gratefully able to drag you back to the breakfast table that day when we convinced you that if Jamaal had a hat on and was blowing a horn in the restaurant while we all sang Happy Birthday that it had to be all about the love that we have for you."
Later in his letter, Walton writes, "Coach, you gave us everything in your life that you had, including the gift of life itself. You always made it so much fun, it was always such a joyous celebration with you. And we want that celebration to roll on forever."
We all echo the sentiments of that last sentence. Long live John Robert Wooden.
Fans also have the opportunity to wish Coach Wooden a Happy Birthday. A special "Coach John Wooden, Happy Birthday" website has been established and over 2,800 fans from 13 different countries on five continents have left a message.
To read Bill Walton's entire letter to Coach Wooden for the L.A. Daily News, click here.
To read a story Walton wrote about Coach Wooden 10 years ago, click here.