John Robert Wooden – The Wizard of Westwood

John Wooden passed away this evening at age 99.

He was the greatest coach in American sports history, a teacher and philosopher whose deeply held faith and belief in always putting others before him guided his life. He was a genuinely nice man, whose former players loved and adored him, and continued relationships with him to his dying day.

My four years at UCLA were the first four years of his unbelievable run of seven consecutive NCAA basketball championships (which eventually would become part of 10 titles in 12 years). I attended almost every home game over those four years. I didn’t get to many games over the next ten years or so, but I’ve had UCLA basketball season tickets for the past 25+ years, and almost never missed a game until my wife’s health problems worsened in 2003. Coach Wooden almost never missed a game either. He sat in the same seat a few rows behind the UCLA bench for almost every game from his retirement until his health declined a few short years ago. You did not have to look hard to find him – there was always an orderly, respectful line of people, young and old, waiting to say hello and ask for an autograph. He never declined and he never asked to be paid for signing his name.

He was devoted to his family, especially his wife, Nell, to whom he was married 53 years until her death in 1985. In the early 2000s, UCLA officials wanted to name the Pauley Pavilion basketball court after him. He would not hear of it, until they agreed to name it the “Nell & John Wooden Court”.

He wrote several books on his philosophies of living life and in gaining success in your chosen path. He was famous for his Pyramid of Success, and for the many, many maxims that he could recite when appropriate, even into his late 90s. Here are a few of them:

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

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.

Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Never mistake activity for achievement.

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

RIP, Coach.

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