Thursday, June 10, 2010

One of a Kind

I have always been a huge fan of John Wooden, UCLA's legendary basketball coach who recently passed away at the age of 99. So when I read what my friend and fellow Buckeye, Bob Tamasy, wrote about Coach Wooden, I thought I would share it here. I hope you enjoy:

As a teenager, I hated UCLA basketball. After all, they won all the time. From 1964 to 1975, the Bruins reigned as National Champions 10 years out of 12, including seven in a row. It seemed unfair UCLA could have players like Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton, when nobody else did. But what UCLA had, most of all, was a one-of-a-kind coach named John Wooden.

Over his 27-year career at UCLA, Wooden posted an overall record of 620-147. Look up “dominant” in the dictionary and you’ll probably see his photo alongside the definition. Despite remarkable on-court accomplishments, however, Wooden stood out for other reasons. He was a man of integrity, of principle, and of faith. With his passing June 4 at the age of 99, the world lost a remarkable individual.

Millions of words already have been said and written in homage to him, and I’m hardly one to write with authority about Wooden. I did meet him once in Columbus, Ohio at a sports awards program back in the late ‘70s. Already retired, he was still held in awe by everyone he encountered. He was humble, unassuming, quite unlike many celebrity coaches of today. Like the old E.F. Hutton commercials, whenever Wooden spoke, people knew they should listen.

After his beloved wife, Nellie, died in 1985, he never remarried. He never even dated. It’s said that Wooden, a native Midwesterner, had just accepted an offer to coach at UCLA when a phone call came to offer him a job to coach at Minnesota. Wooden declined the offer, holding to his UCLA commitment. Why? Because he had given his word.

Young men who played for Wooden at UCLA inevitably left his mentorship as better men, whether they advanced to the professional level or not.

Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” From all accounts, Coach Wooden was never accused of “duplicity.” In an age when double-mindedness seems prevalent, when principles rarely interfere with ambition, we need more people like John Wooden. By God’s grace, may it be so.

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