From the diaries. Joey's musing over at Straight Bangin' is a great example of how beautiful writing meshing sports and life has made clowns like Bill Simmons of the world increasingly irrelevant (at least for me). This is a classic must read post about Coach Wooden from a gracious Wolverine who is an honorary Bruin on BN. GO BRUINS. -N
NB: This diary entry can also be found at Straight Bangin', a website for hip-hop fans who like to hold Lloyd Carr accountable for his failures and freak out about the George Allens of the world. Please also note that the author of Straight Bangin' recommends spending as much time as possible on Bruins Nation. Oh, and beat USC in football again. Please. Michigan fans beg you.
My entire family is from the New York area, and most of it still lives in and around the City today. My parents' idea of a good time is traveling to freezing cold, remote destinations; a large majority of my family hates to fly; and before I went to Michigan, no one from my household had spent much time in the Midwest, or, really, any place else, save for Cape Cod. When put in one of many other ways: I have absolutely no connection to the University of California, Los Angeles. I haven't even been to California, and from what I can tell, all anyone in LA does is drive around, complain about traffic, talk on the phone, and get tan.
Despite this East Coast bias-driven lifestyle, I can't remember a time when I didn't love John Wooden, a man who's synonymous with UCLA. And this is simultaneously surprising and to be expected. Ostensibly, there is no reason why I should care about an old white man whom was most relevant before I was born, coached a team I don't care about, and I will never meet. But I'm also the same person who first heard the word "bullshit" because the Madison Square Garden crowd was raining it down upon Charles Barkley and the 76ers; the same person whose father calls him at work to administer quizzes such as naming the starting five from the UMass team that went to the Final Four with Marcus Camby; and the same person whose 8th-grade teacher was confounded by my compulsive need to recite basketball scores during morning meetings in class each day. Basketball has always been a conduit for so many facets of my life, so of course I love John Wooden. He's a mythic figure of the sport.
His appeal is understandable, overall, but somewhat more complicated for me. Famous for his Pyramid of Success, myriad maxims meant to impart lasting truths, and nurturing soul as much as for his ten NCAA titles in twelve years, Wooden is the ultimate basketball father figure. Regimented, thoughtful, observant, principled, and caring, Wooden offered a benign but serious discipline that has become legendary given the lasting impact he made on his players. It's the sort of role many men envision playing in the lives of their children, and it's no coincidence that Wooden is a venerated constellation in my father's sky, much as my father is one in my own. The wisdom imparted in reminders such as "be quick but don't hurry" and "failing to prepare is preparing to fail" is very much in the style of the knowledge that my dad has handed out over the years, with aphorisms aplenty. And that Wooden's conductive medium for morality and teaching was the same as one of my father's--I can't tell you how many memories of my time with him will forever include warm remembrances of basketball--only has strengthened the bond that both my dad and I have been able to project onto a basketball deity. We have never known John Wooden, but yet we both feel, on some level, that he has always spoken to and for us.
I understand that it's quite weird to experience such warmth for a remote figure, and it would be nearly disingenuous were there not substantial reasons behind it. But my genuine esteem for Wooden was reinforced last night as I watched HBO's documentary about Wooden's UCLA dynasty of 1964-1975. Though only an hour and general to the point of neglect at times, the movie is an engrossing synopsis of not just Wooden and his teams, but also of the larger social, political, and moral contexts that surrounded what everyone saw on the court. The common denominator among all of the players interviewed is their dedication to the basketball program's patriarch, and hearing such authentic love manifested in various ways only enhances Wooden. A formative experience in my literary career was reading a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar autobiography, so it was even more rewarding to hear from the players discussed in the book, many of whom have grown into quasi-legends thanks to the input of my father, a basketball romantic.
That a 25-year-old sees so much of his own father in a man he's never met, and accordingly reveres the stranger, is likely one of the most bizarre but compelling pieces of evidence one might find when attempting to demonstrate just how important John Wooden has been not just to basketball, but to society. For some of the more basic elements, I'd suggest checking out HBO's documentary.