We Still Call Him Coach
John Wooden is the college basketball coach with the most National Championships
to his credit - TEN! He is also one of two men who are in the Coaching
Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame, as a player, along with Lenny
Wilkens. My brother Kent and I had the privilege of being coached by him.
"Coach" was an amazing man! He was a father figure and a leader.
He was first a teacher. His most important lesson was that you are
a winner if you do your best ... a lesson he hoped would stick with you
throughout your life. Winning had nothing to do with the game score.
It was all about how well you played and about the great feeling you got
when you knew you had done your very best. That's what Coach called
Coach Wooden led by example ... being mentally and physically fit.
He was a flash back to the Golden Age of Greece. He wasn't macho
in a macho world. No four letter words! If you heard him say,"Goodness
gracious, sakes alive!" You knew he angry.
When I am asked about Coach, I always say, "He was a poet in the locker
room." He was a soft spoken man and was always positive, even in
negative situations. He was a prince in the gym. The rules
of the game were just that, rules -- not to be broken or bent. That
did not mean he didn't want you to play hard. If you dove on the
hardwood floor for the ball and came up with bloody knees, he'd be there
to pat you on the back. If you punched someone in the nose, you would
be sitting next to him on the bench. Coach always kept the ship afloat
My brother, Kent, was a 6'7" man who moved like a cat, with the grace
and economy of motion of a professional dancer. And he could soar!
At 6'4" tall, I explained to Coach that the only reason I did not dunk
was because I was afraid of heights.
Coach was alive, we had coach and player reunions every other year. At
the last one there over one hundred and fifty former UCLA players
and six coaches. What a great feeling to be among my teammates ...
lots of laughter, a few joyful tears and bunches of hugs.
I proudly belonged to four groups of men. The biggest group is those
men that have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. Belonging
to that group has taught me to hate war.
I belong to the P.T.A. - the "Past Tarzan's Association." It is
a very small group of 23 men who have played the role of Tarzan on film.
That experience taught me that life happens when you are on the way to
someplace else. That certainly was a life-changing experience!
Being selected to be a cartoon gives me an excuse to never group up!
At UCLA I joined a fraternity. More than fifty-five years later I still
have my best friend, Don. Thank you Figis.
The group of men I am proudest to be a member of is that bunch of athletes
who had the privilege of being coached by John Wooden. I love