LOS ANGELES - UCLA honored John Wooden and his late wife Nell by naming the Bruins’ basketball court for them Saturday before the Bruins beat Michigan State, 28 years after Wooden retired from coaching with a record 10 national titles.
Wooden, 93, coached the Bruins from 1948-75. During that time, UCLA won seven straight national championships, an NCAA record 88-game winning streak, and four 30-0 seasons.
“I’m glad that they did this in a timely way because we take it for granted that he’s going to be around forever,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known as Lew Alcindor when he starred for UCLA in the late 1960s. “He can enjoy it and we can enjoy him and the day.”
More than 70 of Wooden’s former players — many with gray hair and heavier than their playing days — were on hand. They included Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Mike Warren, Rafer Johnson, Walt Hazzard, Marques Johnson, Gary Cunningham, Lynn Shackelford, Sidney Wicks, current Southern California coach Henry Bibby, and Jamaal Wilkes.
“I know what made this day possible, it’s those young men down there,” Wooden said, turning to look at his former players seated off-court. “I’m extremely proud of all of them. Many never had the opportunity to play in Pauley Pavilion.”
Wooden stalked Pauley’s sideline holding his ever-present rolled up program during the final 10 years of his career.
“I’m proud of the fact that this floor is being named for my late Nellie and me,” he said.
He met his future wife as a freshman in high school. “She sort of took my eye,” he said. “Thankfully, I took her eye, too.”
Seven of Wooden’s 11 great-grandchildren helped pull two pieces of blue velvet away to reveal the words ‘Nell and John Wooden Court’ in blue on the floor of Pauley Pavilion.
Clutching his cane, Wooden was helped to center court by his two children, James and Nancy. Nell Wooden died in 1985 after 53 years of marriage.
“I didn’t come to hear me, I came to watch these young men down here,” Wooden said, gesturing at the current Bruins who stood along the bench.
“But I am thankful to see so many of you here today. I hope to see you every game. And I hope you’ll all really back our team with a lot of enthusiasm. But at the same time, let’s be gracious to our opponents, too.”
Wooden made his way to his usual seat in the stands a few rows behind UCLA’s bench to watch the Bruins play Michigan State under first-year coach Ben Howland.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of UCLA’s first title under Wooden, the Bruins wore replica jerseys similar to those used in the 1964 season. However, their shorts were baggy, unlike the short, tight shorts worn in Wooden’s era.
He is the first person to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. The Martinsville, Ind., native played guard on Purdue’s 1932 national championship team.
Since Wooden’s retirement, the Bruins have one just one NCAA title in 1995.
Before the unveiling, former UCLA game announcer Dick Enberg narrated a brief film of Wooden’s life and career.
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