One of college basketballs greatest coaches died today, Friday June 5 in the early morning after suffering a massive heart attack among other medical issues over the past few years.
John Wooden, 99, holds the record for one of the most winningest coaches in Division I college basketball. One of the greatest coaches of all time, Wooden’s stats will prove that he not only deserves to be known as such, but his character also is one to remember.
Wooden had 88 consecutive games during the 1971-1974 seasons as well as 38 consecutive NCAA tournament games between 1964-1974. Wooden to this day holds those records.
Wooden also led the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA championships — at one time winning seven in a row — during a 27-year run that ended with his team cutting down the nets one last time in 1975.
Wooden coached basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton among many others and also had a few Neismith award winners under his regime.
Walton told The Associated Press from the NBA Finals that he last visited with Wooden a few days ago at the hospital.
“He’s the greatest,” Walton said, his voice catching. “We love him.”
Even in retirement he remained a beloved figure and a constant presence at U.C.L.A., watching most games from a seat behind the home bench at Pauley Pavilion.
Fans of Wooden often snaked their way and formed lines to his seat in Section 103B. Wooden always obliged his fans, until “the university and his family requested that he be granted privacy in January 2008, when he was 97.”
John Robert Wooden was born into a Dutch-Irish family on Oct. 14, 1910, in Hall, Ind., and grew up in a farmhouse that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing.
His first basketball was a black cotton sock his mother had stuffed with rags. The hoop was a tomato basket until his father forged a rim from the rings of a barrel.
Wooden later led Martinsville High School to three consecutive state finals, winning in 1927.
Wooden went to Purdue University, even though it had no athletic scholarships. To get tuition money, he spent summers doing construction work.
n 1932, he led Purdue to the Helms Foundation’s unofficial national championship and was named national player of the year. An English major, he also had the highest grade-point average of any Purdue athlete that year.
He earned a teaching degree and taught at Dayton High School in Dayton, Ky., where he also coached almost everything, including tennis and baseball.
Two years later he moved back to Indiana, to South Bend Central High School, where for nine years he taught English and coached basketball. In his 11 years as a high school basketball coach, his record was 218-42.
In 1948, U.C.L.A. wooed him away as basketball coach for $6,000 a year. His success at U.C.L.A with his well-known “perfect” zone defense brought him a nickname he hated but still has today: the Wizard of Westwood.
Wooden was 64 when he retired in 1975 and left with a 620-147 record in 27 years at U.C.L.A. and a 40-year head coaching record of 885-203.
Ironically, today at Seacrets, I gave John Wooden trivia out to see if people could guess his name; sadly only my sober co-workers could answer the question as all the drunk fools in the bay proved they knew nothing more than when their next drink might possibly be coming.
In all serious though, remember this man. Sure, Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyewski, Dean Smith, etc. are up there with being some of the greatest. But Wooden is a legend and a man to never forget. He helped make basketball what it is today.
“We decided that we would not declare his obituary now, other than to say that he’s the winningest coach in our history, four 30-0 seasons, and the ultimate aficionado of our game,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said right before Wooden passed away. “We hope he’s in peace right now, and we’ll wait on events.”