By Al Michaels
The following are comments delivered by Al Michaels at John Wooden's memorial service on June 26, 2010.
John Wooden was, in the minds of many of us, the greatest coach in the history of sports. He pooh-poohed that, but I told him once, "Coach, you have only yourself to blame. You shouldn't have gone out and won those ten national championships in 12 seasons. It's your fault."
The reason we're here today to celebrate and commemorate the life of Coach Wooden has only a little to do with the banners that ring the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. This day is about celebrating the life of a man who, over the course of almost a full century, personally touched, inspired and enriched the lives of several thousand men and women, boys and girls. He was a man for all generations.
He was born when the automobile was just out of its infancy and the airplane was seven years old. And he lived to see men walk on the moon and to see computers recast the world. But he was never resistant. He understood how to shift with the times, and Coach Wooden was much too smart to step in front of an on-rushing train.
Through it all, he never wavered from his core values. His life was built on an indestructible, unshakeable foundation. Over the last ten years, or from the time John Wooden turned 90, many of us here today were with him when he would address students or other young people. And if there is one thing I will never forget, it was the look on the faces of almost every 14 or 16 or 18 or 20-year-old in the room when Coach spoke. They were simply enraptured. And that's why he was a man for all generations. He had a complete understanding of the art of communication. It reminded me of the old commercial: "When John Wooden talks, people listen." And they listened intently.
Pauley Pavilion has been the home of UCLA Basketball for 45 years. It can be home for 100 more and we'll never forget that Coach spent so many of those years after his retirement in his seat near the Bruins bench. A spotlight shines on this now because his spirit will be a part of this building forever.
And the court itself; initially Coach had no interest in the court being named after him but finally after much prodding he relented. But it was conditional. The court had to be named for his beloved Nell as well, and then he insisted that Nell's name come first. Doesn't that tell you something else about John Wooden: he was the classic gentlemanóladies first.
John Wooden had the ability to say more in one sentence than most of us could in one hour. My favorite Woodenism is, "Never mistake activity for accomplishment." He touched the lives of tens of thousands of people directly and maybe millions indirectly. I think the luckiest, in addition to the family, are his former players. Bill Walton told me that when he visited Coach a couple of days before he passed, Coach looked at him and said, "I thought I was finished with you?" That was the Wooden sense of humor.
For so many of his players, John Wooden was a father figure. I had the great fortune to broadcast UCLA basketball on KTLA television over the course of Coach Wooden's last two seasons, and I think about one instance in 1974 when the Bruins had beaten Washington in Seattle on a Saturday night and the team had flown to Spokane on Sunday and bussed down to Pullman for a Monday night game at Washington State. Coach had the bus stop at the Performing Arts Coliseum so the guys could get out and stretch their legs and go through a short practice. They practiced for about a half-hour and then came back into the locker room. I was standing over in the corner. Coach looked at the team and he talked about tomorrow's game and he gave them the schedule and then the last thing he said was, "Now it's very cold and sleeting outside, so when you get out of the shower I want you to dry your hair completely and thoroughly." I thought to myself not only is he their father, he is their mother, too.
There are many people in this building this morning that will tell you that John Wooden was the most remarkable man they had ever met. He was the complete man. And I look at this legacy and the 50 or so Wooden family members who are here, his son Jim and daughter Nan, seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandchild on the way; this, too, is the legacy of Coach Wooden.
Today we celebrate a life of extraordinary accomplishment.
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