My most recent Basketball Times article focuses on Coach Wooden's legacy and Sam Gilbert:
Wooden must be remembered as teacher-coach – not for Sam Gilbert
Everyone agreed following John Wooden’s death at age 99 that he was a true American icon. A common refrain to characterize what Wooden did was that “he coached basketball but he taught life.”
Several years ago, the National Association of Basketball Coaches passed a resolution that its members be referred to as “teacher-coach.” It was an admirable gesture, but just like the term “student-athlete,” it’s something that should be earned, not bestowed. Wooden, without question, set the measurement for what a teacher-coach should be.
Wooden would illustrate his true purpose by invoking legendary University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. After an exceptionally good season, Stagg was asked whether he thought it had been one of his most successful years in coaching. Famously committed to the idea that sports should build character, Stagg replied, “I won’t know for another 25 years or so.”
The 10 NCAA championships are an amazing feat, but the success of Wooden’s former players is extraordinary. They are doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers and coaches by trade, but more important, there are good people cut from Wooden’s mold.
Since Wooden’s passing, there have been countless tributes. Most focus on his inspiring life and his mind-boggling accomplishments. A few have invoked Sam Gilbert – the infamous UCLA booster who was alleged to have provided benefits to Wooden’s players – in order to provide additional context to Wooden’s life. It’s one thing to mention Gilbert in Wooden’s obituaries, but I think it’s absurd to theorize that UCLA’s championships are tainted by Gilbert.
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." --John Wooden
The day before the NCAA sanctions against USC were released, the Los Angeles Times went into its Way-back Machine (we now know it as google) to give us yet another story on Sam Gilbert and his role in UCLA/Wooden basketball dynasty. I have no problem when people speak ill of the dead, if they must, but, goodness gracious, so much for letting Coach Wooden rest in peace.
If the Gilbert/Wooden story has legs, as they say, then bring it on. Give us new information or a new wrinkle to this 40-year old story that gets trotted out whenever someone wants to take shots at Wooden's legacy.
I have no doubt Sam Gilbert broke NCAA rules. Does that tarnish UCLA's basketball dynasty? If you want it to, I suppose. Or it's just sour grapes.
There's cheating in big time college sports. Shocking. Jerry Tarkanian, former Long Beach State and UNLV coach, used to say, “In major college basketball, nine out of 10 teams break the rules. The other one is in last place.”
Tark liked to jab NCAA by suggesting the organization would never go after UCLA or Wooden. Tark didn't offer a legitimate defense of the NCAA's allegations against him, but it was (and still is) a great punchline delivered with a profound truth: Yes, UNLV may cheat, but everybody cheats.
There have been so many wonderful tributes to Coach Wooden since he left us. Eventually, I will write my own. In the meantime, here are 10 of my favorite things I've read and watched on Coach's inspiring life.
Coach gets a deserving honor: He's on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.
For Coach, a photo is worth 10,000 words. 39 rare photos of Coach. My alltime favorite: John Wooden at Purdue. Chiseled physique. Intense focus. Calculating. John Wooden, the basketball player just looks like someone who was quick...but did not hurry.
Art Spander on Coach. Art first met Coach in 1956 when Art was a UCLA freshman and covered sports for the Daily Bruin.
"The discipline is about to begin up in heaven. St. Peter will learn how to wear his socks and tie his shoes. Or else...On this day, with John Wooden gone, the rest of us [have tears]. Better watch those shoe laces, St. Peter."
Andy Hill, a reserve on the 1970-72 championship teams on Coach:
“You hear from every guy who played for him how he taught us about life as he taught us about basketball. But I don’t know that any of us had any idea that it was happening at the time. It’s like you read a Salinger story, then you took a class and learned about all the hidden symbolism. There was a whole level of teaching going on that none of us could see.”
Andy Hill sent this link along with this poignant note:
"I have had an emotional week, but everyone who loved Coach is happy to see him move on to a better place. There have been some fabulous columns and shows about Coach…this one is one of the best I’ve heard. The first interview starts around 4:20…and goes on for about 16 minutes. My guess is you’ll want to listen to the whole thing after hearing Eric Neel from ESPN talk about his experiences with Coach. You will also hear a level of emotional connection that I never hear from folks in the media, because they’ve never met anyone like John Wooden. Personally, I burned through a few tissues…so be quick…but don’t hurry!"
5) On Monday night Prime Ticket re-aired "Scully & Wooden...For the Kids.” I hope you Tivo'd it because it may never air again. I know T.J. Simers' snarkiness irks some people, but Coach was a wonderful needler. Or as we say today, trash talker.
6) THE UCLA DYNASTY re-airs on HBO on Friday, June 11 (7:30-8:30 p.m. ET/PT).
Debbie and I were fortunate to see the Premiere at the Bruin Theater in Westwood in the presence of Coach. An amazing documentary. The best moment was an impromptu talk by Coach. Coach thanked everyone for giving him more love than he ever felt he deserved. Coach used the word "love" at lot in recent years--and actually regretted that he did not include that word on his Pyramid of Success.
7) Over the years, I've posted several of my recent encounters with Coach, along with a lengthy contribution by Bill Bennett, who worked closely with Coach through the years. Also, I got to visit Coach the day before my wedding. Now, that's priceless.
"Five times during that season the Bruins scored more than 100 points; only six times did they win by five or fewer...The 1963--64 title team stands as both a summation of everything he had learned to that time and a grand experiment in the coaching arts that he would apply to win nine more championships. Precept after precept was tonged and tempered in the crucible of that season: The game rewards quickness above all, victory begins with defense and, perhaps most important of all, it's what you learn after you know it all that counts."
9) Up Close with Roy Firestone....And, better than all the tributes, is just to sit and listen to Coach...his beautiful mind, his common-sense solutions, his Midwestern values and that sly twinkle in his eye. Roy Firestone posted some of his great interviews with Coach.
10) (And last and definitely least) The Sam Gilbert Dilemma
"There's as much crookedness as you want to find. There was something Abraham Lincoln said — he'd rather trust and be disappointed than distrust and be miserable all the time.
"Maybe I trusted too much."
Coach lives on, not just in memory, but in every lesson we were ever taught by our greatest teacher. As my friend Andy Hill said, "Coach won't die."
Coach, we love you.
UPDATES: I will add more articles that I think are worthwhile...
* John Akers, my editor at Basketball Times, wrote a great story on Coach in 2005. The piece took 2nd place in United States Writers Basketball Assn. best-writing contest for magazine-length stories.
Wooden addresses his concerns about Sam Gilbert. Wooden concludes:
“I know I never used him. My conscience is clear. When some say the program is tainted, that doesn’t bother me a bit.”
* Former Dodger GM Fred Claire writes about Coach's love of baseball
"[Wooden] loved to talk baseball, and in one of our first visits he pulled a newspaper clipping out of his pocket that told the story of Pittsburgh general manager Joe Brown offering him an opportunity to manage the Pirates. Said Wooden: 'Joe offered me the job and I turned it down by telling him, 'Who do you think they'd fire first, you or me? If I were the owner, I'd fire you first for hiring me. Then I'd fire me.' The chances are great that Wooden would have been successful as a Major League manager. He was a talented player as a youngster and later coached baseball at both the high school level and at Indiana State before taking the basketball job at UCLA."
The following is from my most recent Basketball Times column, which ran in the August issue.
Not all is bad in college basketball. The Sporting News convened a blue-ribbon panel of experts to vote on the 50 greatest coaches of all time. These types of lists are subjective, but who cares, especially when the the runaway winner is, not surprisingly, John Wooden. Of the 118 sports experts assembled, 57 placed Wooden in the No. 1 slot.
I was fortunate to be invited to an intimate luncheon to mark the occasion. The gathering was held appropriately in the John Wooden Room at the Valley Inn, one of Wooden’s favorite hangouts. Mike DeCourcy served as Master of Ceremonies and did a great job introducing the esteemed group of speakers.
UCLA coach Ben Howland and athletic director Dan Guerrero spoke glowingly about Wooden and his impact on the UCLA community. Former players Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Marques Johnson and Andy Hill each recounted poignant and funny memories.
I was particularly moved by the story told by Johnson. He brought up the time Wooden demonstrated his competitive drive. Johnson was a freshman when Wooden saw him shooting pool at a campus hangout. Wooden walked up and demanded his pool cue.
“Uh oh, I’m trouble,” thought Johnson.
“Toothpick in his mouth, blue sweater, he leans over the pool table and proceeds to run off about seven or eight balls,” Johnson recalled. “Hands me the pool cue, walks out without saying a word.”
That’s John Wooden. He may come across as a homespun Midwesterner, but don’t let his “goodness gracious sakes alive” act fool you: He has always been a tough, confident competitor.
Wooden is 98 years old. He doesn’t get around like he used to, but he can still light up any room. Wooden spoke beautifully, as he always does. When he forgot his point, he recovered with great humor, as he always does: “At my age, your memory gets a little bad, your hearing gets a little bad and a lot of other things get worse.”
His final lesson that day: “The most important things in the world are family and love,” he said. “The most important word in our language is ‘love.’ The word ‘hate’ we should remove from our vocabulary.”
Words to live by.
An important piece. Best point: "John Wooden gained his immortality with the life lessons we will never forget. And as all the guests, including former players Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Gary Cunningham, Jamaal Wilkes, Kenny Washington, Fred Goss and Ken Heitz said their farewells to Coach, there were no handshakes -- just hugs and kisses -- and Coach's now aging students telling their old teacher that they love him. After all, Coach may have left the word 'love' out of his pyramid, but his players got his message just the same."
ESPN's Andy Katz did a terrific profile on new Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson. Katz points out, "Under NCAA rules, Obama isn't allowed to make recruiting calls on the Beavers' behalf." Not even the presumptive (think positive) President of the United States of America is above NCAA rules. Seriously. Yes, Barack Obama should have more pressing matters than OSU basketball. For starters, improving our economy, ending one war (strategically, of course), avoiding others, education, healthcare, social security, on and on.
Interesting that NCAA rules allow the President to help the best teams, but not the worst teams...
There's a long and colorful history of high-profile political figures getting involved in recruiting. For example, in the 1980s then-Texas Governor Bill Clements approved an illicit slush fund for gifted SMU football players.A couple years ago, Myron Rolle (according to Myron Rolle) received a text message from then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush during his recruiting trip to Florida State. After Jeb Bush found out his text message might constitute an NCAA violation, he showed his Bush DNA and was unrepentant. Said Bush, "I would have done the exact same thing for the Gators and for the Hurricanes." He added, in a moment fit for The Daily Show: "Truth be known, I'm a Hurricane fan." (Truth be known, I am a UCLA fan, but I cannot help but root for Coach Robinson and his brother in law.)
Even Coach Wooden took a walk on the wild side of NCAA rules when he spoke to hotshot recruit Kevin Love, something I previously blogged on. Note to OSU: UCLA found a way around that rule.
Check out this great, inspirational profile of Coach Robinson on ESPN's Outside the Lines.
The NCAA sent a letter of inquiry to UCLA in connection with Coach Wooden's involvement in the recruitment of freshman sensation Kevin Love. Apparently Love met with Coach on his recruiting trip. Spending time with Coach is an amazing experience, something I've been fortunate to do on several occasions. I would liken an audience with Coach Wooden to the Pope (but in English and far more entertaining). If invited, you don't consult with the NCAA rule-book, you go -- and if you have to beg forgiveness later, so be it. If this sounds "Onion-esque" read on.
Bill Dwyre, another LA institution, who writes about the episode in the Los Angeles Times, wonders why NCAA protocol was so closely followed. Coach Wooden has been involved in college athletics since 1928, making the NCAA barely old enough to be his father. If you had to name an "All-NCAA" team of those who most embody the values of the NCAA, certainly Coach would be a first teamer, if not Player of the Century. I would like to think the NCAA is becoming more student-athlete friendly as they like to say they are, but there are still some ole Javert-types who view a rule as a rule. Certainly a phone call to UCLA's compliance guy Rich Herczog would have provided a satisfactory response: "Wooden, as a paid consultant to the school, is permitted to meet with recruits."
Dwrye wonders: "Even though we know better every time we read about big bowl money and the latest zillion-dollar TV network basketball tournament contract, does not the NCAA purport to exist for the betterment of the educational experience? What better educational opportunity anywhere than to meet and talk to John Wooden?"
Had dinner last night with my good friend John Skinner, a USC grad (and former basketball walk-on). Much of the conversation, of course, was on USC's stunning defeat to Stanford. Skinner, who was at the game, was amazed at the number of fans who booed the Trojans lackluster performance, particularly as the team went into locker room at halftime. He said USC's "35-game home win streak meant nothing." Actually, it meant everything. Anything less than perfection is intolerable.
My favorite illustration of this point: In 1975 Coach John Wooden had just led the UCLA Bruins to its 10th NCAA championship in twelve years. Coach tells the story of being approached by a booster as he walked off the court. The booster said, "Coach, congratulations. It was a great championship, especially after last year's disappointment." That would be the 1973-74 season in which UCLA went 26-4, but lost to NC State in the Final Four semifinal game breaking the string of seven consecutive NCAA Championships. During the seven championship seasons, the Bruins lost a total of 5 games. In 1974, the Bruins lost a shocking 4 games.
Thirty years ago sports was about what-have-you-done-for-me lately? And nothing has changed today, except everybody thinks their favorite team should NEVER lose.
A photo from our recent dinner at Knott's Berry Farm (check out Coach's bolo tie!)
NABC Interview That morning in the Hyatt Regency, Coach Wooden sits for more than an hour for an interview that can be viewed once the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame opens next season at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The interview spans his entire life, from his upbringing in rural Indiana, to his college days at Purdue, through his UCLA head coaching years.
Coach Wooden will always say one of the great influences in his life was his father, Joshua Hugh Wooden. He talks about the philosophies his father handed down to him: “Two Sets of Threes” –
1. Never lie. 2. Never cheat. 3. Never steal
1. Don’t whine 2. Don’t complain 3. Don’t make excuses
On the day Coach Wooden graduated from elementary school in Centerton IN, he received from his father a two-dollar bill (which Coach Wooden would give to his own son Jim) and a 3 x 5 card. Written on one side of that card was a verse by the Rev. Henry Van Dyke and on the opposite side, Joshua’s personal Seven Point Creed (Coach Wooden still carries a copy of the Creed with him) –
1. Be true to yourself. 2. Make each day your masterpiece. 3. Help others. 4. Drink deeply from good books, including the Good Book. 5. Make friendship a fine art. 6. Build a shelter against a rainy day. 7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Four things a man must learn to do If he would make his life more true: To think without confusion clearly, To love his fellow-man sincerely, To act from honest motives purely, To trust in God and Heaven securely. --Henry Van Dyke
Basketball Game in Municipal Auditorium Municipal Auditorium is quite the historic site for college basketball, hosting nine NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours between 1950 and 1964, including three of the first four. There is a VIP reception at Municipal before the games. Sitting there with Coach Wooden, Nan and Craig, a family asks if they can have their picture taken with the Coach. Of course he agrees, but the family’s husband is perturbed because his friend, who was to take the picture, was nowhere to be found. Craig then jumps up and happily volunteers to take the portrait – it is a great shot, Coach Wooden with that beaming family. Everywhere we go, everyone wants a photo with Coach.
From the reception, we walk Coach Wooden into the arena and everyone stands and applauds. His front row seat is behind the ESPN broadcast desk. Coach Wooden sits next to Smith, Russell, Robertson and their families. Vitale, who is the ESPN color analyst for the games, turns around and spends a few minutes with all the honorees.
We watch all of the Duke-Air Force game and most of the Marquette-Texas Tech contest. Early in the second half of the Marquette-Texas Tech game, the Hall of Fame inductees are introduced at center court. Back in his seat, Coach Wooden notes that he was most impressed with Marquette’s athleticism and aggressiveness.
It is a first class, elite event from start to finish.
CBS analyst Billy Packer is the Master of Ceremonies. There are speeches from - Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski; a prerecorded video presentation by ESPN's Dick Vitale; Tom Jernstedt, NCAA Executive Vice President; Kansas City's mayor Kay Barnes and Jim Haney, the executive director of the NABC.
"This is a big night for college basketball," Haney said. "It captures more than 100 years of history and lays the groundwork for the future of it."
Brown presents his college coach, Dean Smith. During his presentation, he looks out into the audience at Coach Wooden and says, "I always felt kind of uncomfortable being introduced as the UCLA head coach, because we all know there is only one UCLA head coach and that's John Wooden (acknowledging and pointing to where Coach Wooden is sitting in the crowd)."
Texas Tech's Bobby Knight, who this season passed Smith to become college basketball's all-time winningest coach, inducts Bill Russell and describes him as the "all-time MVP."
In his speech, Russell says it was the "highest honor he ever had in basketball." He commends coaches Smith and Wooden for their work and efforts during the civil rights movement. Coach Smith participated in sit-ins in North Carolina in the 1960s and Russell says Coach Wooden was the only head coach who played more than one Black player on the West Coast.
Walton's gives a 22-minute tribute to Coach Wooden. It is serious, it is comedy, it is opinionated – it is Bill Walton at his best. Some of Bill's comments include-
"To play for John Wooden was the greatest thrill of my life. They were the most challenging, demanding things I've done in my life".
"We never started a day with Coach Wooden looking at us and saying – What do you men want to do today?"
"Coach Wooden never speaks of himself, he never draws attention to anything he's ever done."
"In four years, Wooden taught us everything we'd ever need to know. Not about basketball, about life."
"Wait a minute Coach, if basketball isn't about size and strength, how come Shaq's got all the money, Kareem's got all the records and Wilt had 20,000 girlfriends?"
Walton then introduces Coach Wooden - "It is now my deepest honor to present the most positive, the most upbeat, the most constructive person I have ever known – John Wooden, a man who never looks back and who's always about what's next."
Coach Wooden then comes to the stage and looking at Walton, jokingly says, "Now you all know what I had to put up with all those years."
He says it's nice for him to come back to Kansas City. Coach Wooden reminisces about the Bruins' first NCAA title in 1964 at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium.
He then talks about his two teams from Indiana State that had a chance to play in the NAIA Tournament, hosted by Kansas City. In 1947, Wooden refused to bring his Sycamore squad because the NAIA did not allow African-Americans in the event and Indiana State had a Black player (Clarence Walker) on its roster. In 1948, Wooden again refused to bring Indiana State to Kansas City. But before the tournament started, the NAIA allowed African-Americans to play (according the Kansas City Star sportswriter Blair Kerkhoff, 1948 was an Olympic year and the NAIA team champion had a spot in the Olympic Trials tournament. The Olympic Committee threatened to pull the invitation if African-Americans were not allowed to play in the NAIA Tournament). The NAACP, Indiana State's university president and Walker's parents also urged Coach Wooden to take his team to Kansas City. While there, the Sycamores stayed at the Muehlebach Hotel and Walker housed with a local minister.
"I'm pleased whenever I think of that NAIA Tournament," Coach Wooden says. "I think that was a big moment in our sports history. A few years later, an All-Black team (Tennessee State) won that tournament. Maybe we opened the door a little bit."
Coach Wooden goes on to say he is proud to have been selected into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and is "so grateful to those that love this wonderful game."
He ends his acceptance with a poem, entitled God's Hall of Fame: God's Hall of Fame
This crowd on Earth, they soon forget, the heroes of the past. They cheer like mad, until you fall and that's how long you last. But God, He never does forget, and in his Hall of Fame, inscribed up there beyond the stars, engraved you'll find your name. I'll tell you friends I wouldn't trade, my name however small – inscribed up there beyond the stars in that celestial hall. For any famous name on earth or glory that they share – I'd rather be an unknown here and have my name up There --Author Unknown
After Coach Wooden's poem recital, you could hear a pin drop as the tears flowed.
Leaving for Kansas City You get very spoiled traveling with Coach Wooden. There’s the town car that picks him up at his condo in Encino and drives him to the Raytheon private terminal in Van Nuys. There, the private jet is waiting, and in less than three hours, you arrive in Kansas City, where a limousine is waiting to take us to the Kansas City Hyatt Regency.
VIP Reception Coach Wooden and his daughter are in adjoining rooms on the 15th floor, where I head to escort them to the private reception on the 40th floor of the hotel. Upon entering Coach Wooden’s room, there sits Lee Hunt, with his wife, Elizabeth. Hunt was a Bruin assistant under Gene Bartow, the first UCLA head coach after Coach Wooden’s retirement in 1975. Hunt ended his career as the head basketball coach and athletic director at Missouri-Kansas City.
When the Hunts depart, I escort the Wooden’s to the 40th floor. Walking into the reception, there sit Smith, Russell and Robertson, joined by Coach Wooden. As people gather around the four Hall of Famers, everyone is frantically taking pictures.
Press Conference/Public Reception From the reception, we head down to the adjoining Crown Center Exhibit Hall for the press conference and induction ceremony. Although this is a celebration for the history of college basketball, it could just as well be a highlight reel for UCLA basketball. Present in the Exhibit Hall for the press conference are –
Coach Wooden, who guided the Bruins to a record 10 NCAA Championships, including seven consecutive from 1967-73 and who led UCLA to a record 88-game overall winning streak and a 38 -game NCAA Tournament winning streak.
Larry Brown, UCLA’s head coach from 1979-81 who led the Bruins to the 1980 NCAA Championship game. He’s the only coach in history to win an NBA Title (Detroit Pistons/2004) and an NCAA Championship (Kansas/1988). Brown was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002. He is there to present his former coach, Dean Smith.
Denny Crum, a UCLA letterman (1958-59) under Coach Wooden, he was also a Bruin assistant (1959-60/1968-71) under Coach Wooden and was on the UCLA varsity staff for three NCAA Championship Bruin runs (1969-71). After his UCLA days, Crum was the head coach at Louisville for 30 seasons, leading the Cardinals to two NCAA Championships (1980/1986) and six Final Fours. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1994. Crum traveled to Kansas City to accompany Coach Wooden to all of Sunday’s events.
Bill Walton, the Bruin star center led UCLA to two NCAA titles (1972-73) and was a three-time National Player of the Year (1972-74). He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1993.
Following the press conference, at the public reception, Coach Wooden stayed seated at the dais signing a steady steam of autographs. The Air Force basketball team is also there, in their military uniform, roaming the Exhibit Hall, taking their picture with every basketball luminary in the place.