If you follow American sports, you've heard of the passing yesterday of John Wooden, the most famous US basketball coach and maybe coach of any sport in our country. Coach Wooden's teams at UCLA won ten national championships and hold the record for the longest winning streak at eighty-eight games. But more important than the victories would be the influence this man had on the coaching community and basketball in general. The coach was a soft spoken Midwesterner who held to his beliefs when the world around him latched onto any new idea. His best friend was his beloved wife, Nell, the only girl he said he ever dated. His death at ninety-nine leaves a void in the world which still craves hero. John Wooden filled that role for many.
One of Wooden's best known players was Bill Walton, who played for the Bruins in the mid 1970's. Walton was the best player in the country and a free spirit, maybe even a radical for the times. Player and coach did not always have the best relationship but what is remarkable today is the love Bill Walton holds for John Wooden. The Bible teaches us that fathers discipline us for our own good but few would admit its benefit as children. Read below the statement Bill Walton released upon the death of his coach. Would we not hope we would have an obituary that read like this? As a coach, this is the impact you pray for.
“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.’”
Applicable poem of the day:
A True North
A True North
"Our ships are tossed
Across the night,
Our compass cracked,
For wrong or right.
True North is there,
Or over here?
Our sea is fear.
Then suddenly a beacon bright
Is shining through
This stormy night.
It's pure and straight
To his true course.
The coach is seen.
He is True North."
-Steve Jamison (written in honor of John Wooden)
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