Coach Wooden would have been 106 today. I think Bruin alumni and fans around the world can all offer something different on how Coach affected their lives or taught them something. By trade, Coach would tell you he was a teacher. From his humble beginnings in Indiana to his fame as the Wizard of Westwood, Wooden would never claim to be rich, famous, or even call himself a coach. He ate at the same coffee shop every morning (Vip’s Cafe in Tarzana), sat in the same booth and ordered the same thing. A friend of mine, probably the biggest UCLA fan you’d ever meet, ran into him there the day the Dodgers picked up Manny Ramirez back in 2008. Coach, was of course, in his booth with some basketball players, and my friend actually asked if he could sit down and talk with him. The players all moved to the counter so my friend could sit down with his baby son. Coach talked about baseball and loved on the baby like any grandfather would. My friend describes him as, "real; genuine; authentic". While this interaction is certainly unique and incredibly awesome, I’m sure there are others who have met coach and found him to be the same mild mannered, respectful, person. He was never boastful, loud, or overbearing. His legacy lives on in all of us and will continue to live on in future generations.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was interviewed back in 2013 and asked about his feelings on Coach:
It’s hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply because he was a complex man, but he taught in a very simple way: he used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation. Any success that I’ve had as a parent, I have to give Coach Wooden credit for showing me how it was done.
He didn’t expect much from us. He just wanted us to do what he did, which was to get our education and learn how to compete according to the rules. It made a big difference to us that he never expected us to do anything that he didn’t do. But then again he graduated from Purdue on time and was a consensus All-American, so he set quite an example and it made it possible to understand that we could do it. It took some work and he showed us how to do it.
He was more like a parent than a coach. He was a selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn’t let us do that.
Coach served as a role model for his players both on and off the court. Kareem clearly learned just as much about life as he did about basketball from Coach John Wooden. Learning skills you can apply to parenting, how to apply yourself in any situation, and getting an education and playing by the rules are life lessons that can’t be taught by just anyone.
Coach is also renowned for his Pyramid of Success; a roadmap, if you will, to the goal of Competitive Greatness. It’s something all coaches strive for and use as a model to reach the pinnacle of their respective sports. Business organizations and schools use it as well to teach the leadership skills woven into the fabric of the Pyramid. If you’ve ever read it or taught it, Coach speaks to you through every brick.
I remember the day UCLA men’s basketball played it’s last game in Old Pauley. It was February 26, 2011 and Arizona had come to town (it also happened to be one month later to the day that my oldest was born). We thought it was going to be a tough game, one that the Bruins might even lose. My husband didn’t want to go to the game at first, but I got tickets anyway because I thought it might be something he’d regret later (turns out I was right. Wife win.). To everyone’s surprise, and Arizona’s too, UCLA slaughtered the WIldcats in epic fashion, and Howland decided to put in some of his bench players, including one by the name of Tyler Trapani. No one knew this kid. We figured it was nice of Howland to put some players in during garbage time that wouldn’t otherwise see the court. Tyler ends up scoring the final basket in Old Pauley. The bench went nuts as the clock wound down, and we really had no idea why until later. It turns out Tyler was John Wooden’s great grandson.
Talk about a Legacy. The great grandson of the Wizard of Westwood closes out Old Pauley in a win over Arizona. You can’t write this stuff.
Please add your own stories, comments, well wishes, or other anecdotes below. We wish you well, Coach, wherever you are. Happy 106th Birthday! As Coach would say, "make each day your masterpiece".