Coach John Wooden

Coach John Wooden

Very lucky to have spent a little time with Coach John Wooden.

Basketball was a big part of my life in high school and I got the chance to attend his basketball camps both as a camper and a counselor in the mid 80’s.

I found him to be very kind and generous, and as you’re probably aware, very wise. Perhaps you’ve read some of the shining tributes. The praise he receives is well-deserved, but he wouldn’t want us to get too grandiose:

“You see, the truth is somewhere in between. It’s wrong to turn people into idols. But it’s also wrong to lose hope, to believe that we can’t find good examples to inspire us…”

In the wake of his passing at age 99, I’ve watched some of the videos online, and went looking for this old photograph.

What vividly comes back is his voice. Steady, calm, kind but firm. He would give several talks throughout the camp and his words instilled purpose and structure.

Though he covered similar topics innumerable times, he never phoned it in. He was very present. I think he was an advanced yogi.

I can still picture him briskly walking around the various courts surveying the morning drills of all the players. His walk was distinctive. Active, with intent. His walking posture somehow echoed good basketball posture – slightly forward with an economy of movement.

Occasionally he would stop and offer a few words – and you could hear a proverbial pin drop. Even if he was silently observing your group, everyone’s intensity and focus cranked up to a very high level.

This permeated the atmosphere of the camp throughout the day and evening. The counselor games at night were electric.

As Jabbar and Walton and many others have noted, one of the great things about being exposed to him, is the realization in later life of how his advice and teaching can be applied to everything off the court. When I read his Pyramid of Success these days, it directly helps me prepare for a gig.

Related to the pyramid and his mastery of words, you’ve likely come across some of his famous quotes. Here is one collection. More maxims can be found on his official website.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he loved poetry. Check out the video below – I bet some rappers are impressed with his spoken word skills.

Thank you Basketball, for the on-and-off-court education, and especially for the meeting of great friends, like Coach Jeff Dunlap, the Kerrisdale crew, and a long list of others.

Thank you Coach Wooden for your kindness, wisdom and generosity, which will always resonate. All whom you’ve touched will pass along what you passed along.

And thank you to my late Dad who encouraged me in basketball and facilitated these great experiences with Coach Wooden.

Coach Wooden’s  TED talk from 2001: