UCLA Holds Public Memorial Service for John Wooden
June 26, 2010
Memorial Service Photo Gallery
Celebrating the life of John Wooden, a beloved coach and teacher
By Wendy Soderburg
Fans, friends, family members and former players made their way to UCLA today to pay their last respects to a man who seemed almost bigger than life -- Coach John R. Wooden.
The public memorial service was held, appropriately enough, in Pauley Pavilion. It was a venue Wooden loved and in which he won nine of his 10 NCAA basketball championships.
Fans were told that they would be allowed into Pauley at 9 a.m. for the 11 a.m. memorial service, which was scheduled three weeks after Wooden's death on June 4. But some attendees didn't want to take any chances. Gary Laine, Victor Griego and Dean Baim all arrived at 4:30 a.m. By 9 a.m., they were friends, having shared their fondest stories of Wooden.
Laine, in particular, stood out in USC apparel, but he explained that although he grew up a Trojan fan, he was also one-tenth Bruin because he completed his dental residency at UCLA.
"I'm here for Coach Wooden. He's been one of my heroes since I grew up [in Arcadia] in the '50s," Laine said. "My high school basketball team ran his zone defense; I read most of his books; I even had a chance to meet him. He's just a remarkable human being and one you'd want to pattern your life after. So there's that cross-town rivalry, but I came all the way from San Jose to be here today. It's very special."
The 90-minute ceremony began with one of Wooden's favorite songs, "Galway Bay," performed by his friend and neighbor, Deirdre Mary Rodgers. The rest of the program was interspersed with videos and live presentations by Wooden's many friends and admirers in the academic and athletic communities.
Sportscaster Al Michaels, who announced UCLA's basketball games during Wooden's last two seasons (1973-75), opened the ceremony with a favorite Coach story: "John Wooden was, in the minds of many of us, the greatest coach in the history of sports. He pooh-poohed that. He didn't want to hear that. But I told him once, 'Coach, you have only yourself to blame. You shouldn't have gone out and won those 10 national championships in 12 seasons. It's your fault.'"
Chancellor Gene Block, who proudly stated he had a copy of Wooden's Pyramid of Success hanging on his office wall, said, "Perhaps the finest measure of John Wooden's legacy is that, along with his unparalleled coaching career, we remember him as a singular mentor and teacher. First and foremost, he was an educator."
Chairs on the arena floor were carefully arranged so that they did not cover the words, "Nell and John Wooden Court." During the service, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero announced that Wooden's customary seat in Pauley Pavilion -- Section 103B, Row 2, Seat 1 -- would be retired. No one would ever be allowed to sit there again, a decision that was met with applause.
Other speakers included Head Men's Basketball Coach Ben Howland, Jamaal Wilkes (from Wooden's 1972-74 teams), Keith Erickson (1963-65) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1967-69). Video appearances were made by Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young; UCLA gymnast Anna Li for the Wooden Academy; Judy Olian, dean of UCLA's Anderson School of Management, speaking about the John Wooden Global Leadership Award; and longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.
UCLA Athletics estimated that 4,000 invited guests and members of the public attended. The guests included Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Dodgers manager Joe Torre and Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Coach Wooden's former players in the audience included Bill Walton, George Stanich, Ralph Drollinger, Marques Johnson, Andre McCarter, Dave Meyers, Jim Spillane, Raymond Townsend, Pete Trgovich, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Jack Hirsch, Henry Bibby, Willie Naulls, Sidney Wicks, Swen Nater, Larry Farmer and Rafer Johnson.
Phil Deckard, the mayor of Martinsville, Indiana -- where Wooden starred for his high school basketball team -- made the trip to attend.
Wooden's sense of humor was mentioned by several of the speakers. In a videotaped message, sports announcer Dick Enberg remembered a story Wooden had told him about the aftermath of the 1964 NCAA championships, the first of his 10 titles.
"It was in Kansas City, and the Bruins had won that first championship on a Saturday. Sunday was Easter. And Coach told me that as he and his wife, Nell, left the hotel to attend Easter services, they were no sooner on the sidewalk when a pigeon took aim and pooped on his head. The direct hit, as he put it, inspired him to turn to Nell and say, 'Maybe Johnny's not as good as he thinks he is.'"
But the service had many poignant moments, too. Erickson and Wilkes choked up during their presentations, and Enberg ended his tribute by saying, "When I last saw Coach in March at his Encino condo, after a two-hour visit, we shared 'I love you's,' and in bidding him good-bye, he pointed to his forehead. Give him a good-bye kiss. It was to have kissed a god." Enberg lowered his head and said no more.
ADDITIONAL GUESTS: Numerous post-Coach Wooden Era players were also in attendance at the memorial service, including Earl Watson, Russell Westbrook, Jack Haley, Brad Wright, Ray Young, Matt Barnes, Kevin Love, Kris and Josiah Johnson, Rod Foster, Alfred Aboya, Lorenzo Mata and Tyus Edney.
All of the coaches from the 1995 championship team - Jim Harrick, Mark Gottfried, Lorenzo Romar and Steve Lavin - attended as did former Purdue head coach Gene Keady, former Arizona head coach Lute Olson and current California head coach Mike Montgomery. Longtime family friend Ann Meyers Drysdale, UCLA Hall of Famer and sister of 1975 captain Dave Mayers, and Los Angeles Laker all-time all-star Jerry West were among the other guests.
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