Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden: 1910-2010

John Wooden, best known as the coach of the incredibly successful UCLA program back in the 1960s and 1970s, died yesterday at the age of 99. You can search far and wide to find someone who will say a word against him and you will come up empty-handed. I am not a Christian, so let me say without any "hometown bias" that John Wooden was a fine example of a good Christian gentleman who lived his faith. He completed his Pyramid of Success (click on the picture for a larger version) back in the late 1940s and instilled these values in the young men under his guidance.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so I could have decided to hate UCLA on general Northern California principles, but I watched from a distance in amazement at the stunning successes the Bruins compiled, most notably when a young man from New York City named Lew Alcindor decided to go to school 3,000 miles away from home. Alcindor was tall and slender, 7'2" with a wingspan like an albatross, and so dominant that the dunk was banned in college basketball in 1967 and not allowed back until 1976. To overcome this, Alcindor under Wooden's tutelage worked hard on a shot called the sky hook, still one of the prettiest and hardest to defend shots in basketball history. UCLA went 88-2 while the young man played center for the team and won the national championship three years running. After he left, Wooden coached UCLA to another four consecutive national titles. From 1963 to his retirement in 1975, UCLA were the national champions ten times.

For the young people who might not remember, Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which back in the day was a very controversial act. Like all Wooden's former players, he speaks only in reverent tones about his teacher.

Best wishes to the friends and family of John Wooden, from a fan.

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