- John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanlyWizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in allof sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever,has died. He was 99.
The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causesat Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been since May26.
Wooden remained beloved by many of his former players, severalof whom visited him in recent days to say their goodbyes.
Among them was Bill Walton, whose voice caught as he spoke ofthe man he hailed as a teacher first and a coach second.
"He's the greatest," Walton said the night before Wooden'sdeath. "We love him."
Jamaal Wilkes said he recognized what he called "that littleglint" in Wooden's pale blue eyes.
During his second visit Wednesday night, Wilkes asked Wooden ifhe recognized him.
"His glasses fogged up, and he had to clean his glasses,"Wilkes said. "He looked at me and said, 'I remember you, now gosit down."'
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre and current UCLA coach BenHowland were among Wooden's final visitors.
"I just enjoyed him and the twinkle in his eye," Howland said,noting Wooden told a few jokes from his hospital bed. "I'm justthe steward of this program. It's always going to be his program."
Jim Harrick is the only coach in the post-Wooden era at UCLA towin a national championship. When the Bruins reached the 1995 FinalFour in Seattle, Harrick repeatedly urged Wooden to attend. He hadstopped going after his wife died 10 years earlier.
"You don't know how stubborn he was," Harrick said by phonefrom Orange County, Calif. "Finally, he did come, and it was atremendous thrill."
With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden ledthe Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streakof seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight duringone historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatestplayers such as Walton and Lew Alcindor - later known as KareemAbdul-Jabbar.
"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, becausehe was a complex man. But he taught in a very simple way. He justused sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to anysituation," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released throughUCLA.
"He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than acoach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but hewas a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of lifethat most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."
Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the BasketballHall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement after theirfather died, saying, "He has been, and always will be, the guidinglight for our family.
"The love, guidance and support he has given us will never beforgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he hasgone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love andcherish."
Wooden was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his playersbe in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style notwell-known on the West Coast at the time.
But his legacy extended well beyond that.
He was the master of the simple one- or two-sentence homily,instructive little messages best presented in his famous "Pyramidof Success," which remains must-read material, not only for fellowcoaches but for anyone in a leadership position in Americanbusiness.
He taught the team game and had only three hard-and-fast rules -no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. Layeredbeneath that seeming simplicity, though, were a slew of lifelessons - primers on everything from how to put on your sockscorrectly to how to maintain poise: "Not being thrown off stridein how you behave or what you believe because of outside events."
"What you are as a person is far more important that what youare as a basketball player," was one of Wooden's key messages.
Wooden began his career as a teacher during the Great Depressionand was still teaching others long past retirement. Up until abouttwo years ago, he remained a fixture at UCLA games played on acourt named after him and his late wife, Nell, and celebrated his99th birthday with a book he co-authored on how to live life andraise children.
Even with his staggering accomplishments, he remained humble andgracious. He said he tried to live by advice from his father: "Betrue to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, makefriendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books - especiallythe Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks foryour blessings and pray for guidance every day."
While he lived his father's words, many more lived his. Thoselucky enough to play for him got it first hand, but there was noshortage of Wooden sayings making the rounds far away from thebasketball court.
"Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were todie tomorrow," was one.
"Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up onyou," was another.
Born Oct. 14, 1910, near Martinsville, Ind., on a farm thatdidn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, Wooden's life revolvedaround sports from the time his father built a baseball diamondamong his wheat, corn and alfalfa. Baseball was his favorite sport,but there was also a basketball hoop nailed in a hayloft. Woodenplayed there countless hours with his brother, Maurice, using anykind of ball they could find.
He led Martinsville High School to the Indiana state basketballchampionship in 1927 before heading to Purdue, where he wasAll-America from 1930-32. The Boilermakers were national championshis senior season, and Wooden, nicknamed "the Indiana Rubber Man"for his dives on the hardcourt, was college basketball's player ofthe year.
But it wasn't until he headed west to Southern California thatWooden really made his mark on the game.
Wooden guided the Bruins to seven consecutive titles from 1967through 1973 and a record 88-game winning streak in the early1970s. From the time of his first title following the 1963-64season through the 10th in 1974-75, Wooden's Bruins were 330-19,including four 30-0 seasons.
"There has been no greater influence on college basketball notjust about the game but the team," Connecticut coach Jim Calhountold the AP. "He gave so much to basketball and education. In myopinion if he's not as important as Dr. Naismith, he's right nextto him."
The bespectacled former high school teacher ended up at UCLAalmost by accident. Wooden was awaiting a call from the Universityof Minnesota for its head coaching job and thought he had beenpassed over when it didn't come. In the meantime, UCLA called, andhe accepted the job.
Minnesota officials called later that night, saying theycouldn't get through earlier because of a snowstorm, and offeredhim the job. Though Wooden wanted it more than the UCLA job, hetold them he already had given UCLA his word.
The Bruins were winners right away after Wooden took over ascoach at UCLA's campus in Westwood in 1949. Still, it would be 16seasons before Wooden won his first NCAA championship with a teamfeaturing Walt Hazzard that went 30-0 in 1964. After that, theybegan arriving in bunches, with top players such as Alcindor,Walton, Wilkes, Lucius Allen, Gail Goodrich, Marques Johnson,Michael Warren and Sidney Wicks coming to Westwood.
Each of Wooden's players would learn at the first practice howto properly put on socks and sneakers. Each would learn to keep hishair short and face clean-shaven, even though the fashions of the1960s and '70s dictated otherwise.
And each would learn Wooden's "pyramid of success," a chart heused to both inspire players and sum up his personal code for life.Industriousness and enthusiasm were its cornerstones; faith,patience, loyalty and self-control were some of the buildingblocks. At the top of the pyramid was competitive greatness.
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation,because your character is what you really are, while yourreputation is merely what others think you are," Wooden would tellthem.
Wooden never had to worry about his reputation. He didn't drinkor swear or carouse with other coaches on the road, though he didhave a penchant for berating referees.
"Dadburn it, you saw him double-dribble down there!" went atypical Wooden complaint to an official. "Goodness gracious sakesalive!"
Wooden would coach 27 years at UCLA, finishing with a record of620-147. He won 47 NCAA tournament games. His overall mark as acollege coach was 664-162, an .804 winning percentage.
Wooden's legacy as a coach will always be framed by two streaks- the seven straight national titles UCLA won beginning in 1967 andthe 88-game winning streak that came to an end Jan. 19, 1974, whenNotre Dame beat the Bruins 71-70.
After the loss, Wooden refused to allow his players to talk toreporters. A week later, UCLA beat the Irish at home by 19 points.
A little more than a year later, Wooden surprisingly announcedhis retirement after a 75-74 NCAA semifinal victory overLouisville. He then went out and coached the Bruins for the lasttime, winning his 10th national title with a 92-85 win overKentucky.
Wooden disliked the Wizard of Westwood nickname, preferring tobe called coach.
"I'm no wizard, and I don't like being thought of in that lightat all," he said in a 2006 interview with the UCLA HistoryProject. "I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician orsomething, doing something on the sly or something, and I don'twant to be thought of in that way."
The road to coaching greatness began after Wooden graduated withhonors from Purdue and married Nell Riley, his high schoolsweetheart.
In a 2008 public appearance with Los Angeles Dodgers announcerVin Scully, in which the men were interviewed in front of anaudience, Wooden said he still wrote his late wife - the only girlhe ever dated - a letter on the 21st of each month, the date shedied. "She's still there to me," he said. "I talk to her everyday."
He coached two years at Dayton (Ky.) High School, and his 6-11losing record the first season was the only one in his 40-yearcoaching career. He then spent the next nine years coachingbasketball, baseball and tennis at South Bend (Ind.) Central HighSchool, where he also taught English.
Wooden served in the Navy as a physical education instructorduring World War II, and continued teaching when he became thebasketball coach at Indiana State Teachers College, where he went47-17 in two seasons.
In his first year at Indiana State, Wooden's team won theIndiana Collegiate Conference title and received an invitation tothe NAIB tournament in Kansas City. Wooden, who had a black playeron his team, refused the invitation because the NAIB had a policybanning African-Americans. The rule was changed the next year, andWooden led Indiana State to another conference title.
It was then that UCLA called.
"Even though we anticipated this day, the finality stillstrikes with a force equal to a ton of bricks," said St. John'scoach Steve Lavin, who coached seven years at UCLA. "Ninety-nineyears of goodness, and now he's back with Nell."
Nell, Wooden's wife of 53 years, died of cancer in 1985. Besideshis son and daughter, Wooden is survived by three grandsons, fourgranddaughters and 13 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private. A public memorial will be heldlater, with a reception for former players and coaches.
AP Basketball Writer Jim O'Connell in New York contributed tothis report.
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