Thursday, March 09, 2006

John Wooden

In honor of March Madness I thought I'd post this article forwarded to me via e-mail. Enjoy!

Written by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated...

On the 21st of the month, the best man I know will do what he always does on the 21st of the month. He'll sit down and pen a love letter to his best girl. He'll say how much he misses her and loves her and can't wait to see her again.
Then he'll fold it once, slide it in a little envelope and walk into his bedroom. He'll go to the stack of love letters sitting there on her pillow, untie the yellow ribbon, place the new one on top and tie the ribbon again. The stack will be 180 letters high then, because the 21st will be 15 years to the day since Nellie, his beloved wife of 53 years, died.
In her memory, he sleeps only on his half of the bed, only on his pillow, only on top of the sheets, never between; with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm.
There's never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA, the last in 1975. Nobody has ever come within six of him.
He won 88 straight games between January 30, 1971, and January 17, 1974.
Nobody has come within 42 since.
So, sometimes, when the Basketball Madness gets to be too much -- too many players trying to make Sports Center, too few players trying to make assists too few coaches willing to be mentors, too many freshmen with out-of-wedlock kids, too few freshmen who will stay in school long enough to become men -- I like to go see Coach Wooden.
I visit him in his little condo in Encino, 20 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, and hear him say things like "Gracious sakes alive!" and tell stories about teaching "Lewis" the hook shot. Lewis Alcindor, that is...who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
There has never been another coach like Wooden, quiet as an April snow and square as a game of checkers; loyal to one woman, one school, one way; walking around campus in his sensible shoes and Jimmy Stewart morals.
He'd spend a half hour the first day of practice teaching his men how to put on a sock. "Wrinkles can lead to blisters," he'd warn. These huge players would sneak looks at one another and roll their eyes. Eventually, they'd do it right. "Good," he'd say. "And now for the other foot."
Of the 180 players who played for him, Wooden knows the whereabouts of 172. Of course, it's not hard when most of them call, checking on his health secretly hoping to hear some of his simple life lessons so that they can write them on the lunch bags of their kids, who will roll their eyes.
"Discipline yourself, and others won't need to," Coach would say. "Never lie, never cheat, never steal," and "Earn the right to be proud and confident."
If you played for him, you played by his rules: Never score without acknowledging a teammate. One word of profanity and you're done for the day. Treat your opponent with respect.
He believed in hopelessly out-of-date stuff that never did anything but win championships. No dribbling behind the back or through the legs. "There's no need," he'd say.
No UCLA basketball number was retired under his watch. "What about the fellows who wore that number before? Didn't they contribute to the team?" he'd say.
No long hair, no facial hair. "They take too long to dry, and you could catch cold leaving the gym," he'd say. That one drove his players bonkers.
One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. "It's my right," he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly.
Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We're going to miss you.
Walton shaved it right then and there. Now Walton calls once a week to tell Coach he loves him.

It's always too soon when you have to leave the condo and go back out into the real world, where the rules are so much grayer and the teams so much worse.
As Wooden shows you to the door, you take one last look around. The framed report cards of his great-grandkids, the boxes of jellybeans peeking out from under the favorite wooden chair, the dozens of pictures of Nellie.
He's almost 90 now. You think a little more hunched over than last time. Steps a little smaller. You hope it's not the last time you see him.
He smiles. "I'm not afraid to die," he says. "Death is my only chance to be with her again."
Problem is we still need him here.

"There is only one kind of a life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters." - John Wooden


Hikingalong said...

Oh, this brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful, sweet man. Thank you for sharing this with us. Also, thank you for your comments on my blog. I see you're in the Atlanta area, me too! I see you're also a grandmother, me too! Don't you just love your grandbaby?! By the way, how did you come about the nickname GiGi? Is that what your grandbaby calls you?

Kimber said...


Unrelated - I am watching American Idot and thinking of you :)

Bek said...

thats inspiring! i love it. thanks for printing it.

Radical One said...

hey girl! thanks for checking in on me... i'm good, just busy with normal life happenings. hopefully, about caught up for a little while.

just read your post on "romance". how precious and how fulfilling simple love can be at times. so glad for you.


Scott said...

That was a sweet story, one that my wife would swoon and cry for. I feel bad that spouses live so long after their love has passed. My grandma is going through it now, and I hope that my wife doesn't have to endure it someday, for more reasons than one!

K said...

John Wooden is a true inspiration as a man, a coach, a husband and leader.

I love March Madness--and I loved this post.

Gordon Cloud said...

Thanks for sharing this inspiring article about a great man.

Thanks also for your visits to my blog and especially your thoughts in the recent discussion. Your opinion is valuable.

kath said...

This is a beautiful story.. one of goodness ...

thank you for sharing it....

imagine having that kind of love for someone.. or .. someone having it for you..


as for the previous post..

the leaves.. the romance..

that is another good story :)
and one that gives me hope for love..

sometimes i wonder if it is gone from the world entirely.. then.. i find good things.. and it gives me hope

thank you for sharing that one too..

Hattigrace said...

What a powerful quote. Thank you for the story, but mostly for his own words. No wonder he had such a powerful impact. Wow.

Gina said...

Wow this is so powerful Cheryl. Thank you for the post.

Ben said...

I've long admired John Wooden. I think its his moral fiber...I know that sounds corney and cliche-like but I dont know how else to put it. He exemplifies "doing the right thing" and always makes it seem effortless.
I hope that I never have to spend that much time without the love of my life.
I was told once, that the greatest gift you can give to your spouse is to outlive them. I see the truth in that over and over.
Thanks Cheryl

K said...

I thought of your post during Selection Sunday--did your faves get bids?

Also, thanks so much for the visit--very glad I am out of that situation now--makes me shudder just thinking of it!