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 success!
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 with sportsmanship.
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 you, Coach!