He was simply the best to ever coach college basketball. He was even a better teacher of life.
I grew up in Southern California ten miles from the UCLA campus. From the time I started playing competitive basketball in the 7th grade to the time I graduated from UCSB, UCLA won 9 National Championships. The Bruins defined college basketball and John Wooden became an icon.
As a freshman on UCSB’s basketball team I had the opportunity to play against UCLA in Pauley Pavilion against a freshman team led by Bill Walton and Jamal Wilkes. Back then freshman couldn’t play varsity and the freshman teams were the warm-up act for varsity games. We got our heads handed to us that day, but I will never forget the experience because John Wooden was in the house. UCLA went on to win their 5th straight title that year and 7th out of 8 years. And the freshman team?…they beat the National Champions in their annual kick off classic and would go on to win 2 more titles while winning a record 88 consecutive games.
John Wooden didn’t care about records which is why many of them will never be broken. He cared about the team and everyone’s role in making the team a success. No single player was greater than the team. Bill Walton found that out early in his career at UCLA. John Wooden didn’t consider himself a basketball coach. He was a life coach who just happened to coach basketball.
Thirty five years after I left the floor in Pauley Pavilion I was at a closing dinner in New York. I was roasted with a recap of that very game written by none other than Bill Walton. At the request of one of our bankers Bill had gone into the archives at UCLA, pulled the box score and with tongue firmly planted in cheek wrote a brilliant and very, very funny game summary for all to hear. As you can imagine I was stunned.
At that same dinner I was presented with the book Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden. Inside the inscription read, “To Mike congrats enjoy life – go for it all. Go Bruins”, signed Bill Walton UCLA 1974.
Go for it all. That was Coach Wooden. May you rest in peace. You will be missed.