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Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden dies

June 05, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever, has died. He was 99.

The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26.

Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement shortly after their father died, saying, "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."

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They thanked well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers and asked for privacy.

With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor -- later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man. 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," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released through UCLA.

"He set quite an example. 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."

Wooden was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style not well-known on the West Coast at the time.

But Wooden's legacy extended well beyond that.

He was the master of the simple one- or two-sentence homily, instructive little messages best presented in his famous "Pyramid of Success," which remains must-read material, not only for fellow coaches but for anyone in a leadership position in American business.

He taught the team game and had only three hard-and-fast rules -- no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. Layered beneath that seeming simplicity, though, were a slew of life lessons -- primers on everything from how to put on your socks correctly to how to maintain poise: "Not being thrown off stride in how you behave or what you believe because of outside events."

"What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player," was one of Wooden's key messages.

"There will never be another John Wooden," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "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."

Wooden began his career as a teacher during the Great Depression and was still teaching others long past retirement. He remained a fixture at UCLA games played on a court named after him and his late wife, Nell, and celebrated his 99th birthday with a book he co-authored on how to live life and raise children.

Asked in a 2008 interview the secret to his long life, Wooden replied: "Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don't let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low."

Asked what he would like God to say when he arrived at the pearly gates, Wooden replied, "Well done."

Even with his staggering accomplishments, he remained humble and gracious. He said he tried to live by advice from his father: "Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books -- especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day."

While he lived his father's words, many more lived his. Those lucky enough to play for him got it first hand, but there was no shortage of Wooden sayings making the rounds far away from the basketball court.

"Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow," was one.

"Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you," was another.

Born Oct. 14, 1910, near Martinsville, Ind., on a farm that didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, Wooden's life revolved around sports from the time his father built a baseball diamond among his wheat, corn and alfalfa. Baseball was his favorite sport, but there was also a basketball hoop nailed in a hayloft. Wooden played there countless hours with his brother, Maurice, using any kind of ball they could find.

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