Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Passing of an American Sports Icon

Former UCLA Men's Basketball Coach John Wooden passed away this past week at age 99. Every Sports Center Anchor, Sports Talk Radio, Newspaper editor, and sports fan has inevitably been speaking about this event. Not to be left out, I will offer two blog posts on Coach Wooden.

I had the opportunity to meet Coach Wooden in 1995 at a basketball camp while I was in high school. Though our meeting was brief, it was meaningful none the less. After he addressed the entire camp, I was compelled to read one of his books. Since then, I have read almost everyone of his books, studied his Pyramid of Success, and thought endless of the simplicity that he lead his life.

Most of my generation only know Coach Wooden as the retired UCLA coach and often are unaware that he was also a fierce competitor. How good of a player was he? His high school team went to the state championship three years in a row, while he was a three time all-state player, winning the tournament in 1927. We all know how serious Indiana High School Basketball is-- Hoosiers anyone? In college, he went to Purdue, and lead the team to the 1932 National Championship, in college Wooden was the FIRST THREE TIME CONSESUS ALL-AMERICAN. Needless to say, he was inducted into the basketball hall of fame as a player before being inducted as a coach. (1961)

In addition, he was a model student athlete. In addition to his on-court exploits, he earned his degree in English and was a member of Alpha Phi Omega (a national service fraternity) and Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.

Coach Wooden, upon retirement, became a speaker, clinician, and author who impacted countless athletes and non-athletes alike. His 1 on 1 book co-written with Jay Carty,had a tremendous impact on me individually, and is one of the books that I most often reccomend.

Of all the things credited to Coach Wooden about his patience, his moral fiber, and his wisdom, none is more compelling than his love of others. Whether it was his players who came from all walks of life. Thinking of the differences between Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar alone would have been enough to make any coach cringe. Yet, Coach Wooden's overwhelming conviction that what he was asking of each individual was right, and best for their development, endeared him to both individuals, and millions more.

Possibly the most mindblowing article I ever read about Coach Wooden, came after his death. In a true "expose" on devotion and caring for someone LA Times sports writer Bill Plascke spoke of Coach Wooden's devotion to his wife Nell. For the full article, please click on this link, for I won't be able to do it justice here. Plaschke's Tribute

Coach Wooden "retired" from coaching in 1975, three years before I was born. I put retired in quotes, because though he stopped coaching basketball, he became one of the greatest "life coaches" in our time. There have been few individuals who have impacted student-athletes, and men of all walks of life. To count myself among those that have felt this impact, I consider myself lucky.

Thank-you Coach Wooden, rest as you lived your life, in peace.