If you are a fan of College Basketball, then you have no doubt heard about the passing of legendary Coach John Wooden. He was 99 years old. The past 48 hours have seen a tidal wave of emotion as people from across the sports landscape have offered up their words of respect for an Icon of the entire sports world.
I knew much about the great Coach Wooden growing up only 50 miles from UCLA, where he coached for 27 years. His UCLA Bruins won 10 national championships, including an impressive seven in row. IN A ROW! The players that came through his program were such basketball icons as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. His players always speak of him in a glowing way that is often reserved for a beloved father. They almost all profess to have learned so much more than just the game of basketball from John Wooden. He was also a teacher of values that built character for life. All over the country, he is being remembered by coaches, and reporters who fondly recall him being one of the most genuine people on the planet.
As I mentioned, growing up near Los Angeles it was not hard to see just how much of a regional treasure he was. In high school, I played on the basketball team. My freshman year, the Varsity Coach was holding an all practice with the varsity, JV, and freshman team. He taught us the UCLA game, one of John Wooden’s creations. It was fun. Basically it was two teams, and it started with a three-on-two fast break and all you get is one shot. The two defenders turn around and head down court with a third guy jumping into the play and another three-on-two fast break. It kept going, and coach kept score. Losing team ran Cupcakes. I hated that. The new Varsity head coach the next year actually had a relationship with John Wooden, and often spoke to him on the phone. Coach Wooden was just that accessible to local coaches.
His coaching career may have ended before my 1st birthday, but people always spoke so much about him that each new generation grew to love him, and his words of wisdom. So today I, a Los Angeles area boy at heart, feel like I have lost a Grandfather. I know he nearly lived a century, but I am still so sad to know he is gone. He was ours, and we were so proud to know that the greatest College Basketball Coach lived and worked in Los Angeles. Among the genuine frauds, and sell-outs that Southern California (and Hollywood) is known for, it was amazing that such a genuine and honest man of character lived there too.