UCLA Spotlight


John Wooden, Basketball Legend

  • By Dave Greenwald
  • Published Jul 17, 2000 8:00 AM

A fierce storm that paralyzed the Midwest in 1948 is the lucky charm that brought John Robert Wooden to UCLA.

Wooden, who had received coaching offers from UCLA and the University of Minnesota, had chosen the Gophers and was waiting for the call from UM athletic director Frank McCormick. When the call never came, Wooden instead accepted an offer from UCLA athletic director Wilbur Johns. It turned out that McCormick had been snowed in by the Midwestern storm and couldn't get to a phone.

UCLA has been counting its lucky stars ever since. In 27 years as the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden led UCLA to a phenomenal NCAA record-setting 88 straight wins and 10 national titles in 12 seasons, including an unequalled seven in a row (1967-'73). In his final nine seasons as coach, Wooden compiled an unbelievable 259-12 record. He was the first sports figure to receive the Bellarmine Medal of Excellence, whose other recipients have included Mother Teresa and Walter Cronkite.

Ironically, Wooden's unparalleled success as a basketball coach isn't the legacy for which he'd most like to be known. He's always stressed his role as a teacher, and the lessons in his books—the most recent being Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court—prove that his classroom is not a gymnasium or arena. Through his "Pyramid of Success," reminiscences and heartfelt epigrams, the legendary coach is always ready to share his philosophy on family, achievement and excellence.

He is famous for anecdotes such as "I don't believe in praying to win. The prayer I'd like to hear beforehand is for nobody to be hurt and that you participate to the best of your own individual ability." Or "Never make excuses. Your friends won't need them and your foes won't believe them."

Coach Wooden will be 90 in October, and his mutual love affair with UCLA continues.