I went to UCLA from in the early 90s. During my five years I probably missed less than 10 basketball games at Pauley. I always got the football season package to get dibs on student basketball tickets. I showed up on Tuesday/Wed and Fridays to get my priority numbers (lot earlier when opponents such as Duke came into town). Around then Coach would come to most of our games sitting at his usual seat right across the student section.
But I never met the Coach. I never mustered up the courage to go up to him and say hello. There was always such a long line of folks wanting his autograph or wanting to wish him well, I thought it'd be better if he didn't have to deal with some measly student looking for a signature. The best opportunity I ever had to meet him and say hello was my sophomore year in college. It was before a Saturday afternoon game (cannot remember the opponent) and I was coming from the direction of South Campus. As I reached right in between Lot 6 and the CTO, I saw Coach with a family member right at that turnaround. He was about to walk up the steps and head towards Pauley (I think they were coming out of Lot 6). There was my chance. Just few feet away and I pretty much froze.
I was too overwhelmed to go up and say hello to Coach. Once again I thought there was no reason for me to interrupt and disturb a man, who probably didn't get a lot of time to himself and his family, when coming to campus. That was it. He went inside and I never had a chance again.
I had been dreaming about working on setting up a meeting between Coach and the frontpagers on BN in last three years, so that we could pick his brain about what can we do to preserve his legacy and the tradition of basketball program. I thought we would have had a shot if we had him around few more years, but it just wasn't meant to be. So, to those of you - who were fortunate to meet Coach over the years - consider yourselves blessed.
Ultimately, for yours truly Coach is more than the ultimate icon of Westwood. He is not perfect and he has said that himself. No one is. Yet he is as close to perfection when it comes to representing all that is good with the world. It was his story that was one of the main reasons that drew me to UCLA. I had a pretty decent sense of what he meant to Bruin Nation, by the time I bought first set of season tickets to watch the M&M boys at Pauley.
So, even though I never met him in person, as cliché as it sounds, he has been with me in spirit every day. He will of course be with us every day here on BN, as we will do what little we can to mark his immortality in this littler corner of the internets.
The outpouring of emotion over the weekend led Dan Gurrerro to issue a statement to "Bruin Family" in addition to initial statement he issued on Friday:
"There will never be another John Wooden. Those of us fortunate enough to have known this exceptional man will remember the impact he has made on our lives forever. His greatness was such that he also had a profound effect on people whom he never met.
"As members of the Bruin Family, I know you share our sadness at the passing of this amazing individual. The way Coach lived his life, cherishing his family and treating everyone, from his best friend to someone he had never met, with great respect, should be an example to all of us. Those are the ideals we strive to instill in all of our student-athletes and they come directly from Coach.
"As you reflect on his passing, be happy for Coach, because he is now with Nell, his wife of almost 53 years before her passing in 1985. Remember his humility, his integrity and his love of life and pass those thoughts on to your friends and family, especially your children.
"Take pride in knowing Coach Wooden was one of us - a Bruin - and honor his passing by making each day your masterpiece."
We will do our best.
I thought tWWL did pretty good job remembering Coach over the weekend. I got to see few of those memorable games on ESPN Classic. I also really enjoyed watching this bit from ESPN Classic which captured candid moments with Coach and Kenny Washington, Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Lynn Shackleford and Keith Erickson in 2005:
And speaking of former players, the Captain and the Big Red were at the Staples last night. They honored Coach right before the game and during the half time show:
Listening to those guys, you can't help but bream with Bruin pride. Pretty clear when you listen to the Captain and the Big Red, that it was never just about basketball. It was something way more.
Not sure if it is a coincidence, but it is interesting to see how well our baseball team and softball team have been performing this weekend. The baseball team is off to the Super Regional. The softball team put on "JW" armbands, fed off the "Pyramid of Success" to advance to the Championship series (which starts tonight at 5 pm PST). Sure looked like they caught a little of that "intergalactic" spirit yesterday in Oklahoma City and at JRS.
We will have lot more on the Coach later today and this week. We will also have an open thread for our softball team starting around 4:30 pm PST. I am sure Coach and Nell will be tuning in.
Last but not the least, good luck to all of our students taking their Finals starting today. Make Coach proud.