If he were angry over tactics used by his opponent, would he threaten to kill him at a press conference, as John Chaney once did to John Calipari? Would he attract his own reality show, like Bob Knight? Would he do commercials for Chevy and American Express, like Mike Krzyzewski?
Would he be driven out of town at the first sign of program slippage, like Mike Davis? Would he have the stomach to deal with precocious teenagers with illusions of NBA grandeur? Would he stand for agents, shoe company reps and other various and sundry leeches hovering around his kids seeking profit? Could he deal with the intrusions of television upon his beloved game, and the overall crush of the modern media?
My guess is no, which is why it’s entirely fitting that he came along when he did. Whether the stars lined up according to some predestined plan, or if was just historical happenstance, Wooden thrived in an era in which a basketball coach could be a great teacher first, without an obligation to be a flamboyant front man for the program.
Wooden died Friday night at age 99.
Hollywood has provided us with an image of what a teacher is that doesn’t completely square with reality. According to such portrayals, a teacher is someone who is bigger than life, so he or she can mesmerize the students with the power of their personality.
Wooden kept his pupils entranced with the power of his teachings, and his personality flowed like residue from that. He was bespectacled, erudite, dapper in a Midwestern general store kind of way and precise about how things should be done.
The 10 NCAA championship banners hanging from Pauley Pavilion as a result of Wooden’s influence don’t get mentioned as much as his “pyramid of success.” It is comprised of blocks named for individual qualities or necessities needed for success, such as “poise,” “confidence,” “initiative” and “loyalty,” to name a few.
Obviously “self-control” isn’t as in vogue as it was during Wooden’s day, as evidenced by the antics of certain high-profile coaches. But the concept of a pyramid of success, in and of itself, indicates just how exact and methodical Wooden was in his approach to coaching.
As beloved as he was, he did have detractors. The name Sam Gilbert has been the only stain on Wooden’s illustrious past. Gilbert was a wealthy UCLA booster who became a sugar daddy to many of Wooden’s players. Although Wooden never was accused of directly participating, he was criticized for not stepping in and insisting on a sanitized environment. After all, 10 championships don’t happen without the acquisition of blue-chip talent. The pyramid of success, some alleged, would have meant little without the sphere of influence provided by the overzealous Gilbert.
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John Wooden: 1910-2010
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