I am paying tribute to John Wooden (1910-2010), perhaps the best coach of all time! He passed away yesterday. He was a living legend when I was attending UCLA way back when. To my loss, I didn't know or care to know much about him then, except he had the record for most NCAA Championships of all time. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. He made me proud to be a Bruin and that was enough for me.
But, more than just being the best coach ever, he was also a man of integrity and faith. He was a devoted husband to his dear wife, a life mentor to his players and a godly example to many of us. His wife, Nellie, died in 1985 and after she passed away, on the 21st of every month, he wrote a love letter to her that he collected.
He continued to mentor his players even after they left UCLA. One of them, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, "Coach Wooden enjoyed winning, but he did not put winning above everything. He was more concerned that we became successful as human beings, that we earned our degrees, that we learned to make the right choices as adults and as parents. In essence, he was preparing us for life.”
And best of all, John Wooden was a man of faith. Not just any faith, but faith in Christ. His beliefs were more important to him than basketball, "I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior." Wooden's faith strongly influenced his life. He read the Bible daily and attended church regularly. He hoped his faith was apparent to others, "If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me."
He had many life quotes that can apply to all of us:
- Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
- Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then
- The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
- Ability is a poor man's wealth.
- 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.
- Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
- Little things make big things happen.
- 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.
- You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.
What a great man he was and he never forgot to acknowledge the greater God who did great things through him. I am a proud Bruin not so much because of what he accomplished for UCLA, but because such an amazing man of character represented my Alma Mater. You cannot talk about John Wooden without mentioning UCLA and vice versa. And what an honor UCLA had to have had the influence of this remarkable man for so many decades.
"I'm not afraid to die," he said. "Death is my only chance to be with Nellie again."