UCLA'S LEGENDARY FORMER BASKETBALL COACH JOHN WOODEN PASSES AWAY
June 4, 2010
UCLA's legendary former basketball coach John Wooden, who in 27 years led his teams to stunning triumphs and was just as well known for mentoring his players off the court and for his motivational "Pyramid of Success," died at 6:45 pm PT Friday (June 4) due to natural causes. He was 99. His 100th birthday would have been Oct. 14.
Wooden had been admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on May 26.
At UCLA, Wooden's teams won a remarkable seven consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships between 1967 and 1973, and 10 titles (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975) in his final 12 seasons as head coach. At one point in the early 1970s, the Bruins won an NCAA-record 88 games in a row, a run that included undefeated 30-0 seasons in 1971-72 and 1972-73. UCLA also won 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament games between the 1963-64 and 1973-74 seasons, another record. Wooden retired from coaching following the 1975 season with a UCLA record of 620 wins and 147 losses. Only twice during his tenure did the Bruins lose home games at Pauley Pavilion, where he coached from the 1965-66 through 1974-75 seasons.
"This is a sad day at UCLA," said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. "Coach Wooden's legacy transcends athletics; what he did was produce leaders. But his influence has reached far beyond our campus and even our community. Through his work and his life, he imparted his phenomenal understanding of leadership and his unwavering sense of integrity to so many people. His 'Pyramid of Success' hangs in my office to remind me every day of what it takes to be an effective leader. He was truly a legend in his own time, and he will be a legend for generations to come."
"There will never be another John Wooden," said UCLA director of athletics, Dan Guerrero. "While this is a huge loss for the Bruin family, Coach Wooden's influence reaches far beyond Westwood. Coach was a tremendously significant figure. This loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society. He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport, but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world. His enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate."
Guerrero continued: "I can still recall my first interactions with Coach Wooden when I was a member of the UCLA baseball team and he was in the midst of his incredible run of championships. While attending those basketball games was certainly a highlight for me, what stands out even more was Coach making the effort to come to our baseball games to cheer for us and what a special feeling that was for our team.
"Since then, I have had the unique opportunity to develop a close personal relationship with Coach Wooden over the years. That's something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Not only did Coach Wooden impact the lives of his own players, he impacted the lives of generations of UCLA student athletes. To watch him come to one of our functions and interact with current student athletes who were born well after his retirement as a coach was a thrill to behold. He had the knack of bridging the generation gap and was the most humble person you could ever hope to meet. He is without a doubt one of the most historic figures of the last century and has left an indelible mark on our world. He is, as Bill Walton once said, a national treasure, and he will be remembered as such forever."
Wooden's rosters included some of the most accomplished players in the history of college basketball, most famously two centers -- 7-foot-2-inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor during his Bruin career), who played in the late 1960s, and Bill Walton, who played for Wooden in the early 1970s. In March 2008, Abdul-Jabbar was selected as the greatest player in the history of college basketball by ESPN and Walton was ranked No. 3. Both went on to stellar professional careers. Among the other basketball greats who played for Wooden at UCLA were Willie Naulls, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Sidney Wicks, Jamaal (Keith) Wilkes and Marques Johnson.
"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man," Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with UCLA. "But he taught in a very simple way. He just used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation."
Wooden was the first person -- and remains one of only two -- to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (1960) and a coach (1972). He was also a member of the inaugural classes of National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (2006), the Pac-10 Basketball Hall of Honor (2002) and the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame (1984). In 2003, President George W. Bush presented Wooden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian.
But just as important as his accolades, winning record and star teams was his approach to the game of life, which raised his coaching style to the level of a philosopher's.
He was known for reciting his father's "two sets of three" -- "never lie, never cheat, never steal" and "don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses" -- and a "seven-point creed," also passed along by his father. The point Wooden used most in his coaching, he said, was "make each day your masterpiece."
Still, Wooden was probably best known for his famed "Pyramid of Success," which he began developing in the 1930s. He said that it was "the only truly original thing I have ever done."
At the base of the five-level pyramid are industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation and enthusiasm. The next levels up are self-control, alertness, initiative and intentness; condition, skill and team spirit; and poise and confidence. At the pinnacle is competitive greatness, which he defined as performing at one's best ability when one's best is required, which, he said, was "each day."
"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable," Wooden once said in explaining the pyramid.
Wooden also promoted his "12 Lessons in Leadership," including Lesson 11: Don't look at the scoreboard.
But while Wooden was high-minded in his approach to coaching, he also was practical. He famously began each season with a coaching session on dressing properly that included showing his players how to put on their shoes and socks the right way.
"This is a game played on your feet," he said. "If you get blisters, you can't play the game."
Abdul-Jabbar said Wooden didn't expect more from his players than he did from himself -- but then again, that was quite a lot.
"He set quite an example," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He was more like a parent than a coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."
John Robert Wooden was born Oct. 14, 1910, in Hall, Ind., one of four sons of a farmer and a housewife. Wooden said he learned from his father true leadership -- when to be firm, when to be flexible, when to have the strength to be gentle and when to have the strength to force compliance. His mother made Wooden and his brothers their first basketball by tying together old rags and black cotton stockings.
Wooden grew up in Hall and the nearby Indiana towns of Centerton and Martinsville. He began playing basketball at Martinsville High School, where they called him "Indiana Rubber Man" because every time he went down on the court, he bounced right back up. At Martinsville, he won All-State prep honors in basketball for three consecutive years, leading his team to the Indiana state title in 1927 and runner-up titles in 1926 and 1928. Losing the 1928 title game, he said decades later, "was the most disappointing thing that ever happened to me as a player."
At Indiana's Purdue University, Wooden won letters in basketball and baseball during his freshman year and later earned All-American honors as a guard on the basketball team, from 1930 to 1932. He was captain of Purdue's 1931 and 1932 basketball teams and led the Boilermakers to two Big Ten Conference titles and the 1932 national championship.
He was named college basketball's 1932 Player of the Year, received the 1932 Big Ten Conference medal for outstanding merit and proficiency in scholarship and athletics, and was inscribed on Purdue's academic honor roll.
Shortly after graduating from Purdue in 1932, Wooden married Nell Riley, whom he had met at a carnival when he was 15. They remained together until her death in 1985. He considered his wife his "lucky Nell" -- he never began a game without finding her in the stands and getting a wink and an OK signal from her.
Wooden began his coaching and teaching careers at Dayton High School in Dayton, Ky. There, he coached numerous sports teams, including the basketball team, which he coached to the only losing season in his entire career as either a player or coach.
During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and spent time aboard the USS Franklin in the South Pacific. Following his discharge in 1946, he coached at Indiana Teachers College (now Indiana State University) for two seasons before coming to UCLA.
Wooden said that his most gratifying UCLA season was his last, 1974-75, when the Bruins won a national championship despite having only one returning starter, David Meyers. Four players from the previous year had been drafted by professional teams, including Walton and Wilkes.
But even before the 1975 NCAA Championship game, Wooden had made his decision to leave coaching. After the national semifinal game, a stunning 75-74 double-overtime victory against the University of Louisville, Wooden said he found himself not wanting to talk to the media. He said he had never felt that way before and knew it was time to get out.
He went to the locker room, gathered his players around him and announced his decision. Wooden later recounted to UCLA Magazine that he told his players, "I don't know how we'll do Monday night against Kentucky, but I think we'll do all right. Regardless of the outcome of the game, I never had a team give me more pleasure. I'm very proud of you. This will be the last team I'll ever coach."
The Bruins went on to defeat the University of Kentucky 92-85 in the finals, winning their 10th NCAA title in 12 years.
After he left coaching, Wooden kept busy with basketball clinics, personal appearances and interviews and wrote or co-wrote many books, including "The Essential Wooden," "Coach Wooden One-on-One," "Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success," "Wooden on Leadership" and "Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success," a children's book.
Wooden was often called the "Wizard of Westwood," a moniker that he did not like.
"I'm no wizard, and I don't like being thought of in that light at all," he told Marina Dundjerski, director of the UCLA History Project, in an interview in 2006. "I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician or something, doing something on the sly or something, and I don't want to be thought of in that way." He said he preferred being called simply "coach."
"Coach is fine," Wooden said.
Wooden is survived by a son, James, of Orange County, Calif.; a daughter, Nancy Wooden, who lives in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley; three grandsons and four granddaughters; and 13 great-grandchildren.
Wooden often said that with the passing of his wife, Nell, he lost his fear of death.
"I look forward to seeing her again," he told UCLA Magazine in 2007.
On Dec. 20, 2003, the basketball floor in Pauley Pavilion was dedicated as the Nell and John Wooden Court.
STATEMENT FROM NAN AND JIM WOODEN ON THE PASSING OF THEIR FATHER, JOHN WOODEN
"We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father. We will miss him more than words can express.
"He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family. The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten.
"Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish.
"We wish to express our gratitude for your support and appreciate your respecting our privacy."
In lieu of flowers, the Wooden Family requests that donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or the charity of choice.
STATEMENT FROM UCLA ATHLETIC DIRECTOR DAN GUERRERO ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"There will never be another John Wooden. While this is a huge loss for the Bruin Family, Coach Wooden's influence reaches far beyond Westwood. Coach was a tremendously significant figure and this loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society," said UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero. "He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport, but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world and his enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate.
"I can still recall my first interactions with Coach Wooden when I was a member of the UCLA baseball team and he was in the midst of his incredible run of championships. While attending those basketball games was certainly a highlight for me, what stands out even more was Coach making the effort to come to our baseball games to cheer for us and what a special feeling that was for our team. Since then, I have had the unique opportunity to develop a close personal relationship with Coach Wooden over the years and that's something I will treasure for the rest of my life.
"Not only did Coach Wooden impact the lives of his own players, he impacted the lives of generations of UCLA student-athletes. To watch him come to one of our functions and interact with current student-athletes who were born well after his retirement as a coach was a thrill to behold. He had the knack of bridging the generation gap and was the most humble person you could ever hope to meet. He is without a doubt one of the most historic figures of the last century and has left an indelible mark on our world. He is, as Bill Walton once said, a National Treasure, and he will be remembered as such forever."
STATEMENT FROM UCLA HEAD COACH BEN HOWLAND ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"The loss of John Wooden saddens the UCLA community and beyond. Coach Wooden, in life and in death, is and always will be the UCLA Men's Basketball Head Coach. His basketball successes and championships were an element of his magnificent far-reaching life.
"Coach Wooden's timeless teachings, philosophies and "Pyramid of Success" not only influenced the lives of his players, but the lives of millions of people around the world. Friendship, loyalty, team spirit and competitive greatness are not just building blocks in his "Pyramid of Success," it's how Coach Wooden led his own life and taught others to live. Always the teacher and mentor, throughout his life Coach Wooden was so giving of himself and his time to everyone.
"Coach Wooden was a wonderful person and great friend who is truly a national treasure. His legacy and legend will continue to live on in each of us striving to be the "best that we are capable of becoming" as athletes, coaches, teachers, parents and human beings."
STATEMENT FROM BILL WALTON ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"UCLA can easily claim an endless list of alumni who have helped make the world a better place. But of all the special spirits who have given so much, it is John Wooden, who has truly had the greatest impact on the largest number of people.
"It was Coach Wooden's heart, brain and soul that put him in a position to inspire others to reach levels of success and peace of mind that none of us could ever dream of reaching by ourselves.
"All of the UCLA basketball players that John Wooden taught knew that when he retired from coaching in 1975, it did not signify an end to his life-long commitment to teaching, merely a new beginning. He was just getting started.
"Coach Wooden taught by example. He never asked or expected anyone to do anything that he hadn't already done himself. He gave us the ability to learn how to learn, and to compete. His keen knowledge and foresight to always be about what's next, always about the future, enabled him to lead an incredibly active, constructive, positive and contributing life.
"Coach Wooden never talked about winning and losing, but rather about the effort to win. He rarely talked about basketball, but generally about life. He never talked about strategy, statistics or plays, but rather about people and character. Coach Wooden never tired of telling us that once you become a good person, then you have a chance of becoming a good basketball player.
"It has been 36 years since I graduated from UCLA. I have spent those years trying to duplicate that incredible period in my life. Our family home, where it all began so many years ago in San Diego, to this day is still a shrine to John Wooden, with UCLA memorabilia, the "Pyramid of Success" and pictures of The Coach everywhere.
"Over the years I've regularly taken our children to Coach's Mansion on Margate in Encino, to get for them the timeless lessons of life, including how to put your shoes and socks on, just like he taught us 40 years ago.
"John Wooden represents the conquest of substance over hype, the triumph of achievement over erratic flailing, the conquest of discipline over gambling, and the triumph of executing an organized plan over hoping that you'll be lucky, hot or in the zone.
"John Wooden also represents the conquest of sacrifice, hard work and commitment to achievement over the pipe dream that someone will just give you something, or that you can take a pill or turn a key to get what you want.
"The joy and happiness in Coach Wooden's life came from the success and accomplishments of others. He never let us forget what he learned from his two favorite teachers, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa, "that a life not lived for others is not a life."
"I thank John Wooden every day for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision and especially his faith and patience. This is why our eternal love for him will never fade away. This is why we call him `Coach.'"
STATEMENT FROM UCLA WALT HAZZARD ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"Today I lost my mentor, my friend, my Coach, John Wooden. He taught us about basketball and life and being the best you can be. My love to the Wooden Family and to all of the Bruins who had the privilege of studying under one of the great teachers of all time. He will be missed by many but by none more than me."
STATEMENT FROM GAIL GOODRICH ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"Nobody was more beloved than Coach. He loved people, and had this tremendous gift to communicate with everyone, regardless of age or background. He always considered himself a teacher, and a teacher he was. When I played for him, he taught me the game of basketball. Later I came to realize, he really taught me the valuable aspects of life. As competitive as he was both as a player and a coach, he was incorruptible. He lived and taught with a simple philosophy that building a winning team or a successful life can be accomplished without breaking the rules or sacrificing personal values.
"No one influenced or impacted my life more than Coach. He was my mentor. I will miss my chats and visits with Coach, but his wisdom and teaching will remain with me forever. I'm blessed to be "one of his boys". He was always there for me. I will miss him dearly.
"The angels have come for him; and delivered him to be with his wife, Nell. He looked forward to being reunited with her. His journey on earth is completed. He is at peace with himself. God bless him."
STATEMENT FROM DENNY CRUM ON THE PASSING OF JOHN WOODEN
"Coach Wooden meant so much to me and to so many others. He was my coach, my mentor, my brother, my father - my comrade in coaching.
"I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him. I had the best of both worlds.
"He was a special person. He was a genuine, honest, God-fearing man - that's the way he lived his life. The more you got to know him, the more you respected and loved him.
"I remember so many occasions, when Coach, Gary Cunningham and I would walk down to Westwood Village for lunch. We'd go through the backdoor at Hollis Johnson's (drug store/lunch counter). We'd sit on milk carton crates, use another one for a table, and talk about fishing and a lot of different things that were not basketball- related.
"It was such a pleasure to be around him. Coach was a lot smarter than most coaches; he knew his strengths and weaknesses. He would hire assistant coaches with talents that he felt would make the team stronger.
"If you asked Coach what he did for a living, he would say he was a teacher, not a basketball coach: a teacher. That's when he was at his best - planning, organizing and teaching. Every morning we would spend an hour-and-a-half going over the practice from the day before: what to change, what to keep, how to prepare for the next practice. He was such a perfectionist and his attention to detail was genius. He never wanted to overlook anything.
"Coach was so smart. In practice preparation, I would say to him, "Maybe we should do it this way." He wouldn't say yes or no, he would look at me and say, "Please explain your idea to me." I would then explain and Coach would say, "OK, we'll try it today and if it works, we'll leave it in and if does not, we'll take it out." He never acted like he knew everything; he always relied on his assistant coaches for advice and counsel.
"What I learned the most from Coach was about life and how to properly live it. Coach's teachings and philosophies he got from his Father, and I got those same teachings and philosophies from Coach. Living life the correct way was far more important than basketball.
"Coach is now back with his wife Nellie and with his Lord."
STATEMENT FROM JERRY NORMAN ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"Coach Wooden was one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history. He will be remembered as a devoted husband and father. He will be missed by those that knew him and by all his former players and coaches."
STATEMENT FROM FORMER UCLA BASKETBALL PLAYER JAMAAL WILKES ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"To be recruited by and play basketball for Coach Wooden at UCLA was an honor and opportunity I'll always cherish. He made a shy and skinny young man with a different looking jump shot into a 12-year NBA Champion and All-Star with his fundamental coaching. He made certain the start and release of my jump shot was sound and allowed me to be different. He instilled in me the belief and confidence to be a champion.
"Over the years our coach-player relationship grew into a life mentoring relationship, and then into a friendship. Coach was always there during the up and down times for me and my family, especially the down times. He had a knack for saying what I needed to hear at the right time about anything. Coach would say things that stuck with me and I'd think about. Coach was fun and had a great sense of humor.
"Coach Wooden is now teaching basketball and life fundamentals in a much bigger Pavilion. Dr, Naismith may have invented the game of basketball but Coach Wooden will coach the team when they meet in Heaven. He's still in charge of practice, asking you be the best you can be on and off the court, and winning championships, eternally.
"I love him, my family loves him, we'll miss him dearly, and we'll always be grateful he cared and touched our lives."
STATEMENT FROM FORMER UCLA BASKETBALL PLAYER JOHN VALLELY ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"Coach Wooden was an even greater coach in the game of life. His Pyramid of Success led me to be a better husband, father, businessman and coach. He was a mentor and confidant for most of the important decisions in my life. My wife Karen and I shall miss him dearly."
STATEMENT FROM ANDY HILL ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"John Wooden was a great coach, but he was an even better person. He taught us how to learn...and then he taught us how to teach and lead others. He taught us to work together and compete...and then he taught us how to be humble in victory. He taught us that our family and friends were our greatest gift...and then his life showed us how to make that dream come true. Though my heart aches at the thought of his absence, he will never leave us...because his teachings are timeless and his lessons priceless."
STATEMENT FROM LYNN SHACKELFORD ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"Little did I know when I started playing basketball under John Wooden that I would be receiving not just the best in basketball instruction, but in addition a path to an honest and honorable way to live for a lifetime."
"Being a part of 12 of the pre game talks in an unequalled 38 consecutive NCAA tournament games won, never once did John Wooden discuss or implore us to win. It was always do your best, conduct yourself like a winner and play as a team. Can you imagine the pleasure over the years of realizing how special that was?"
STATEMENT FROM ANDRE McCARTER ON THE PASSING OF LEGENDARY UCLA ICON JOHN R. WOODEN
"My Coach, John Robert Wooden, the example of a man who lived really loving the Lord. What an honor, with love for me to have shared with him, moments in time. My friend, my Coach who taught me the intricate details of a champion and helped shape my life. He trusted me with the basketball and he trusted me to live the best life.The King of kings has welcomed the Coach of coaches."
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