The Greatness of John Wooden

Steve O Speak

College Basketball and the entire sports world, lost a legend yesterday with the passing of John Wooden. Wooden was more than just a great basketball coach, he was the embodiment of everything that is great about American sports. He played and coached the game, basically from its infancy and left behind a legacy and records that will never be matched. While Wooden’s accomplishments go well beyond the hardwood, as he was known as more than just a great coach, but a man of principal who always stood for what he believed in.

He took early stands against racism, and his Pyramid of Success became a building block of his legacy. Wooden was a man of faith, who was proud of his convictions and his love for his family. Through books, lectures and just the relationships he made, Wooden has passed on his values to countless people. Wooden’s impact beyond the basketball court reached it’s pinnacle in 2003 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While John Wooden would have been a great man even if he wasn’t a great coach, he might not have been a great coach without being a great man.

To classify John Wooden as a great coach, is really a gross understatement. Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith are all great coaches yet combined they can’t match the Wizard of Westwood’s National Championships (10). What is even more impressive is Wooden won those over a 12 year span. It was a 12 year run that can’t even be hoped to match in college basketball ever again, as John Wooden defined basketball from 1964-1975. Between 1967-1973 Wooden led the UCLA Bruins to 7 straight National Championships, no other coach has ever won more than 2 in a row (which Wooden also did winning in both 64′ and 65′). During that time the Bruins not only won, but they dominated, going 335 and 22. In a third of those 12 seasons, the Wizard led the Bruins to undefeated seasons (no other coach has more than 1). And during a stretch between 1967-68 the Bruins won a record 47 straight games. Any one of those coaching feats would be considered amazing, all of them makes Wooden one of a kind. Never before and probably never again has any sport collegiately or professionally been so dominated by one man, yet Wooden did it with grace and respect.

While we remember the great accomplishments by Wooden, we should also remember the way he handled himself as a man and was an example and inspiration for us all. Basketball may have lost John Wooden the coach, but the world lost John Wooden the man and that might be the biggest loss of all. Luckily his legacy will live on, due to the countless lives he touched and we can all remember the man who helped define college basketball and turn UCLA into a national powerhouse.

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