Archive for Sunday, June 6, 2010

Friends remember Wooden

June 6, 2010


— Jamaal Wilkes answered his phone a week ago and heard Michael Warren’s voice urging him to get to the hospital to see John Wooden.

John Wooden throughout the years

1910 — Born in Martinsville, Ind.

1927-29 — Leads Martinsville H.S. to one Indiana state title and two runner-up finishes, earning all-state honors all three seasons.

1930-32 — Wins letters in basketball and baseball his freshman year at Purdue and earns All-America honors from 1930-32. He captained the Boilermakers in 1931 and 1932 and led them to two Big Ten titles and the 1932 national championship.

1932 — Wooden is awarded the Big Ten medal for outstanding merit and proficiency in scholarship and athletics.

1932 — Marries Nell Riley and accepts a teaching and coaching position at Dayton (Ky.) H.S. His first team goes 6-11, the only losing record Wooden ever has as a player or coach.

1934— Coaches basketball, baseball and tennis and teaches English at South Bend Central H.S. He finishes his 11-year prep coaching career with a 218-42 record.

1943-46 — Serves as a Lieutenant in the Navy during World War II.

1943 — Wooden is selected to the all-time All-American Basketball team by the Helms Athletic Foundation.

1946 — Following his discharge from the service, Wooden accepts position as athletic director and basketball and baseball coach at Indiana Teachers College, now known as Indiana State. His first team won the Indiana Collegiate Conference and received an invitation to the NAIB tournament in Kansas City, but Wooden, who had a black player on his team, refused the invitation because the NAIB had a policy banning African Americans. The rule was changed the next year, and Wooden led Indiana State to another conference title.

1948 — Accepts position as head basketball coach at UCLA.

1960 — Inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a player.

1964 — Wins the first of his 10 national titles at UCLA with a 98-83 win over Duke. The Bruins post the first of four 30-0 seasons under Wooden.

1964 — Inducted in the inaugural class of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

1965 — Pauley Pavilion is opened and Wooden recruits New York City big man Lew Alcindor to play at UCLA. Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after graduation, leads the Bruins to three national titles and just two losses over three seasons.

John Wooden throughout the years, ctd.

1966 — UCLA wins the first of a record seven straight NCAA titles.

1967 — Wins the first of a record five AP coach of the year awards.

1969 — Martinsville names a street and the high school gymnasium after Wooden.

1973 — Inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, the first person inducted in more than one category.

1973 — UCLA ends its run of consecutive NCAA championships and its record of 38 straight NCAA tournament victories.

1973 — Is named Sportsman of the Year by “Sports Illustrated.”

1974 — The Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak is snapped with a 71-70 loss at Notre Dame.

1975 — Announces after 75-74 NCAA semifinal win over Louisville that he is retiring after 27 seasons as head coach at UCLA. After winning the 10th national title under Wooden with a 92-85 victory over Kentucky, Wooden’s overall career record stood at 885-203, including 620-147 at UCLA. His record in 12 Final Four appearances was 21-2.

1977 — The John Wooden Award is presented for the first time to the national player of the year, UCLA’s Marques Johnson.

1985 — Nell Wooden dies after 53 years of marriage.

1985 — Is presented the Bellarmine Medal of Excellence. He is the first sports figure to be honored following such winners such as Mother Teresa and Walter Cronkite.

1994 — Inducted into GTE/Academic All-America Hall of Fame.

1995 — Presented with NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Sportsman Award.

2002 — Elected as a charter member of the Pac-10 Hall of Honor.

2003 — Presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, at the White House.

2003 — UCLA names the court at Pauley Pavilion after John and Nell Wooden.

2009 — Wooden is selected as the “Greatest Coach in American Sports History” by “The Sporting News.” Former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi was second in the voting of a 118-member panel with Alabama football coach Bear Bryant third, the NBA’s Phil Jackson fourth and pro football’s Don Shula fifth.

The former UCLA coach and Hall of Famer had been in and out of the hospital in recent years, but this time, it was different.

Warren told Wilkes that Wooden might be nearing the end of his inspiring life. A few days later, a grave Bill Walton called Wilkes, saying, “Jamaal, you need to get over here.”

So Wilkes headed to campus to see his 99-year-old former coach, one of many long-ago UCLA basketball greats who gathered at Wooden’s bedside in his final days to say farewell.

“There were lots of people coming through,” said Keith Erickson, who starred on the 1964 and ’65 national title teams. “Everybody wanted to give their last regards to him and let him know for sure that we had been there and how much we loved him.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known as Lew Alcindor in his college days, rushed back from Europe, reaching Wooden’s side hours before he died Friday night. Gary Cunningham, a player and assistant under Wooden and later head coach of the Bruins, cut short a vacation in the Sierra Nevada. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, a longtime friend, came by, too.

“It was very sweet,” said Andy Hill, a reserve on UCLA’s national championship teams in 1970, ’71 and ’72. “I got to tell him he can leave, but he really can’t because he’s in all of us.”

Erickson spent a few minutes with Wooden on Wednesday night, tenderly holding the long, bony fingers of his mentor’s hand.

“When I spoke to him, he opened his eyes just a little bit and got a little bit of a smile,” he said. “He talked a little bit, but I couldn’t tell what he was saying.”

By Friday, though, Erickson said it was evident the end was near. Wooden didn’t respond to anyone in the room, resting with his pale blue eyes closed, hours away from his long awaited reunion with his late wife Nell.

“They had a very, very close relationship. I’m sure today John is a happy person,” said Gene Bartow, who had the unenviable task of succeeding Wooden in Westwood.

Erickson reminisced Saturday under the 11 national championship banners hanging in a quiet Pauley Pavilion, taking solace in knowing that Wooden was no longer in pain.

“The last couple years he was not happy. He didn’t want to go through this, but he was a fighter,” he said. “He went two years longer than anybody thought he could and he kept getting real sick and he came back.”

Walton didn’t join Saturday’s informal player gathering on Nell and John Wooden Court at Pauley Pavilion.

“The joy and happiness in coach Wooden’s life came from the success and accomplishments of others. He never let us forget what he learned from his two favorite teachers, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa, ‘that a life not lived for others is not a life,’” Walton said in a statement released by the university.

“I thank John Wooden everyday for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision and especially his faith and patience. This is why our eternal love for him will never fade away. This is why we call him ‘Coach.’”

Wilkes, Cunningham, Erickson, Hill, and Marques Johnson traded handshakes and hugs not far from a wreath of red carnations, red roses and white roses sprayed Bruin blue that rested next to Wooden’s seat in the second row behind UCLA’s bench. Overhead hung the blue and gold banner signifying UCLA’s 1975 national championship, Wooden’s record 10th and last.


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