Yesterday was October 14th, 2012. In past yesterdays, October 14th, was the beginning of the NCAA Division I men’s collegiate basketball season commencing with picture day for UCLA. It was also Coach John Robert Wooden’s birth-date, each year on this day of his coaching career he made wishes and prayers before blowing out candles on his cakes. His life represented prayers and wishes that came true. Coach Wooden was born on October 14th, 1910 and completed his earthly assignment at the age of 99 years old. He was a man who hated to be called a wizard and, he told everyone who asked him about the Westwood nickname that he did not like it. Those who loved him and were close to him miss him but, celebrated and remembered the memories and great treasures he imparted into his family, his players, college basketball, UCLA, and America.
The opening of the men’s college basketball season coincided with Coach Wooden’s birthday each year. The first day teams could begin team practices was picture day which proceeded the start of the 1972-1973 men’s college basketball season Today it is called Mid-Night Madness. UCLA returned with most of the team who went 30-0 while winning the national championship. In the NCAA title game UCLA had been really challenged by a quick and tall Florida State team that tested the young UCLA Bruins.
On this picture day the returning UCLA Bruin players and coaches had to prepare for growing expectations for this coming season. The 1971-72 NCAA champions was UCLA and Coach Wooden’s sixth consecutive national championship title. The 1972 championship team was led by two sophomores Bill Walton and Keith (Jamaal) Wilkes. On top of all that, it was also Coach John Wooden’s 62nd birthday.
Let us take a pause . . . The men’s college basketball game has changed on the court and in the business of college basketball. More sponsorship money, more television exposure, rule changes and a significant amount of hype enhanced the college game from the 1980s, 90s and into the early 2000s. Unfortunately, all of the so called expansion did nothing to alter the unbalanced perspective and mentality of many of the young people entering the game of college basketball over the last ten to fifteen years. The player’s parent(s), coaches and so called friends who were sold on the means and ways culture of the shoe companies AAU, high school basketball player sponsorships and the NBA entitlement helped to perpetuate and create an atmosphere where college became a breeding ground for many gaining the ephemeral paychecks waiting in the NBA.
To young aspiring basketball players, education, respect for others, honor, knowing the history of the game of basketball and developing into a well rounded person is a dinosaur of the past. The more money that was being made through television contracts, licensing and sponsorships increased the value of star players.
A fundamental cardinal sin in the history of basketball is when a point guard does not bring the basketball up the middle of the court on a fast-break. College basketball coaches began to succumb to the players when college coaches started allowing point guards to bring the basketball up the left or right side of the basketball court. The basketball purist knew change was on the horizon, big time, and it was not looking good.
Over the last forty years college basketball is to a point that it is unrecognizable from its more purist form. Increased revenue and popularity generally makes people in authority look the other way and pretend not see any Gorillas in the arena or on the court. The days when the best young basketball players stayed in college four years ended and forced college and professional landscapes to change.
In the mid 70’s when Coach Wooden’s teams reigned and a team won an NCAA national championship it was against the best in the world at that age. Players grew up from boys to men during their four years in college before going pro.
Many people know and remember the old story told about Coach Wooden’s encounter with his sophomore 1st team All-American and 1972 College Player of the Year, Bill Walton. Bill rides on his bike into Pauley Pavilion at the beginning of the season with extra long dangling red hair and a beard. Bill knew the team rules about haircuts and no facial hair as well as anyone on the team; but he made a bee-line to Coach Wooden. Bill Walton told John Robert Wooden that he was not cutting his mustache, beard or locks of red hair. Bill proclaimed, “I have rights and you can’t make me cut my hair.” From the many ways I have heard the story told, Coach Wooden calmly told Bill Walton, “I respect that you are standing up for what you believe and we are going to miss you Bill.”
A short time later, Bill returns all clean shaven and ready to take pictures, practice or whatever Coach Wooden would have told him to do. The team laughed when Bill came back; Bill had come to his senses. Bill and his teammates all knew Coach Wooden meant what he said.
In 2012 a NCAA Division I men’s basketball coach would not have a chance to have this type of learning experience with his star player. One reason would be that Bill Walton would have played varsity his freshmen year, which was against NCAA rules up to the 1973-74 season, so after being selected as a 1st team All-American and College Player of the Year he would not have made it to his sophomore year because he would have declared for the NBA draft as the # 1 pick overall. Good bye to three years of national championship hopes and life lessons learned from four years under the tutelage of John Wooden. In 2012 get the money now, is the cry.
Coach Wooden never had to, tell his players he was in charge or give out “go get them” speeches to get his players attention. He taught a most important objective: Be the best you can be no matter what you undertake. Coach Wooden gained respect by just being himself; he worked harder, longer and loyal. In Wooden practices the commitment to the execution of the details revealed that Coach was more interested in the process of the journey than the end result. The practice process made his players comfortable with competition.
On July 29th, 2009 almost one year before his graduation from earth to heaven Coach John Robert Wooden was named by Sporting News Magazine and voted by a panel of 118 Hall of Famers as the Greatest Coach of the top 50 coaches of All-Time. Needless to say he was in good company when you think Vince Lombardi, “Red” Auerbach, “Bear” Bryant, Eddie Robinson and Phil Jackson to name a few.
When one achieves the title of best of all-time in any field; they deserve to be heard. Coach Wooden did not take advantage of his platform, but he left treasures; some hidden and others loudly in view for all who want to be the best they can be. He just lived what he believed was right at a young age and continued it as a seasoned adult. Wooden hoped people would listen and example a standard of excellence he lived through his heart, and penciled in verse. For many that has not been the case, but it is not too late. Just take a pause . . .
Forty years have passed since the UCLA brand that John Wooden and his players made known around the world. The Woodenisms Coach left transition into sports, business, and the fabric of life.
On the court, along with his wisdom prose Coach Wooden was a fierce competitor. He taught his players teamwork, to be dedicated, disciplined, to be focused, and pursue personal excellence, organization and leadership. He always provided sayings to teach the young men under his supervision: On Teamwork: “Happiness begins where selfishness ends.” “The best way to improve the team is to improve ourselves.” “It is amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” For Individual Improvement: “When you are through learning, you are through.” “Do not mistake activity for achievement.” “The man, who is not afraid of failure, seldom has to face it.” You may make mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming someone else.”
UCLA, received a gift from which it should never depart. Coach Wooden left the university with a blueprint for true success and a mind-set to see it through. No one should be able to grace the campus of UCLA without fully knowing the history of what John Wooden, his teams and players accomplished with the attitude of their leader as they dominated in their field of endeavor with ten NCAA national championships in a twelve year span. Things change but truths remain. Yes, the truth still works today. The legacy of Coach Wooden proved it could be lived out under some of the most adverse times and conditions in American history.
The ideas, principles and values Coach Wooden taught and exampled to his players are powerful tools for healthy living. He showed his players by example how these skills and disciplines are transferable for how to live your life.
Coach Wooden’s greatest mentor and example was his dad. Joshua Wooden: Here are a few of the principles and values that John Robert Wooden received from his dad that set the course for his life and can help adults as well as our young people and as a nation at every level and occupation. Joshua Wooden gave his young son a card upon his graduation from grade school that had these sayings:
Four things a man must learn to do.
If he would make his life truer:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow-man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and Heaven securely.
The back part of the card read: “Seven Things to Do”
- Be true to yourself.
- Help others.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day
- Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings everyday.
Joshua Wooden’s “Two sets of threes” on how to conduct yourself:
- Never lie
- Never cheat
- Never steal
On dealing with adversity:
- Don't Whine
- Don’t complain
- Don’t make excuses
Take a Pause . . . Coach Wooden would always quote this by heart:
Remember this your lifetime through
Tomorrow, there will be more to do . . .
And failure waits for all who stay
With some success made yesterday . . .
Tomorrow, you must try once more
And even harder than before.
On a cross country flight a twenty five year old young man upon hearing about Coach Wooden’s life asked a profound question. “Where are the men like him for my generation?”