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John R. Wooden

John Wooden
John Wooden circa 1972
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1910-10-14)October 14, 1910
Hall, Indiana
Died June 4, 2010(2010-06-04) (aged 99)
Los Angeles, California
Playing career
1929–1933 Purdue
Position(s) Guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Indiana State
Head coaching record
Overall 664–162 (.804)
Accomplishments and honors
As player:
*1932 Helms National Championship
As coach:
*1964 NCAA National Championship
*1965 NCAA National Championship
*1967 NCAA National Championship
*1968 NCAA National Championship
*1969 NCAA National Championship
*1970 NCAA National Championship
*1971 NCAA National Championship
*1972 NCAA National Championship
*1973 NCAA National Championship
*1975 NCAA National Championship
Regional Championships – Final Four
(1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)
2006 founding class, College Basketball Hall of Fame
1972 National Basketball Hall of Fame as a Coach
6 time NCAA College Basketball Coach of the Year
1930 Basketball All-American
1931 Basketball All-American
1932 Basketball All-American
1932 College Basketball Player of the Year
1933 National Basketball League – Scoring Champion
1938 National Basketball League – First Team
1960 National Basketball Hall of Fame as a Player
1964 Henry Iba Award Coach of the Year
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1961
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006
Template:Infobox medal templates

John Robert Wooden (October 14, 1910 – June 4, 2010) was an American basketball player and coach. Nicknamed the "Wizard of Westwood", he won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period—seven in a row[1]—as head coach at UCLA, an unprecedented feat.[2][3] Within this period, his teams won a record 88 consecutive games.[1] He was named national coach of the year six times.

As a player, Wooden was the first to be named basketball All-American three times, and he won a Helms Athletic Foundation National Championship at Purdue in 1932, seven years before the birth of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. Wooden was named a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player (inducted in 1961) and as a coach (in 1973), the first person ever enshrined in both categories. Only Lenny Wilkens and Bill Sharman have since had the same honor.[4]

One of the most revered coaches in the history of sports,[1] Wooden was beloved by his former players, among them Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. Wooden was renowned for his short, simple inspirational messages to his players, including his "Pyramid of Success". These often were directed at how to be a success in life as well as in basketball.[1]

Early life and playing career

Born in 1910 in the town of Hall, Indiana,[5] to Roxie Anna and Joshua Hugh Wooden,[6] Wooden moved with his family to a small farm in Centerton in 1918.[7] He had three brothers:[3] Maurice, Daniel, and William,[6] and two sisters, one of whom died in infancy and was unnamed[6] and another, Cordelia, who died from diphtheria at age 2.[6] As a boy, one of his role models was Fuzzy Vandivier of the Franklin Wonder Five, a legendary basketball team that dominated Indiana high school basketball from 1919 to 1922. After his family moved to the town of Martinsville when he was 14,[8] he led the high school team to the state championship finals for three consecutive years,[2][9][10][11] winning the tournament in 1927.[10] He was a three-time All-State selection.[2]

After graduating in 1928, he attended Purdue University and was coached by Ward "Piggy" Lambert. He helped lead the Boilermakers to the 1932 Helms Athletic Foundation National Championship, as determined by a panel vote rather than the NCAA tournament, which did not begin until 1939.[12] John Wooden was named All-Big Ten and All-Midwestern (1930–32) while at Purdue, and he was the first player ever to be named a three-time consensus All-American.[13] He was also selected for membership in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.[14] Wooden is also an honorary member of the International Co-Ed Fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.[15] Wooden was nicknamed "The Indiana Rubber Man" for his suicidal dives on the hardcourt.[13] He graduated from Purdue in 1932 with a degree in English.[3]

After college, Wooden spent several years playing professionally with the Indianapolis Kautskys[16][17] (later the Indianapolis Jets), Whiting Ciesar All-Americans,[17] and Hammond Ciesar All-Americans[17] while teaching and coaching in the high school ranks.[17] During one 46-game stretch he made 134 consecutive free throws.[16] He was named to the NBL's First Team for the 1937–38 season.

In 1942, during World War II, he joined the US Navy. He served for nearly three years and left the service as a lieutenant.[3]

In 1960, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame for his achievements as a player.[18]

Coaching career

High school

Wooden coached two years at Dayton High School in Dayton, Kentucky. His first year at Dayton marked the only time he had a losing record (6–11) as a coach.[19] After Dayton, he returned to Indiana, teaching English and coaching basketball at South Bend Central High School[20] until entering the Armed Forces.[21] His high school coaching record over 11 years, two at Dayton and nine at Central, was 218–42.[2]

Indiana State University

After World War II, Wooden coached at Indiana State Teacher's College (now Indiana State University) in Terre Haute, Indiana, from 1946 to 1948,[3] succeeding his high school coach, Glenn Curtis.[22] In addition to his duties as basketball coach, Wooden also coached baseball and served as athletic director,[2][3] all while teaching and completing his master's degree in Education.[22][23] In 1947, Wooden's basketball team won the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference title and received an invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) National Tournament in Kansas City. Wooden refused the invitation, citing the NAIB's policy banning African American players.[22][24] One of Wooden's players was Clarence Walker, an African-American from East Chicago, Indiana.[22]

That same year, Wooden's alma mater Purdue University wanted him to return to campus and serve as an assistant to then-head coach Mel Taube until Taube's contract expired. Then, at that time, Wooden would take over the program. Citing his loyalty to Taube, Wooden declined, as this would have effectively made Taube a lame-duck coach.

In 1948, Wooden again led Indiana State to the conference title. The NAIB had reversed its policy banning African-American players that year,[25] and Wooden coached his team to the NAIB National Tournament final, losing to Louisville. This was the only championship game a Wooden-coached team ever lost. That year, Walker became the first African-American to play in any post-season intercollegiate basketball tournament.[25]

On February 3, 1984, John Wooden was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame.[26]

On Nov 8, 2008, Indiana State officially named the floor at the Hulman Center The Nellie and John Wooden Court in honor of the legendary coach and his late wife, Nellie. The ceremony included taped comments from Coach Wooden and the participation of members of his 1946-47 and 1947-48 teams.[27] The Sycamores christened the newly named floor by defeating the Albion College (MI) Britons in an exhibition game.


In the 1948-1949 season, Wooden succeeded Wilbur Johns as the head basketball coach at UCLA, signing a three-year contract for $6,000 in the first year. Prior to being hired at UCLA he had been pursued for the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota, and it was his and his wife's desire to remain in the Midwest. But inclement weather in Minnesota prevented Wooden from receiving the scheduled phone offer from the Golden Gophers. Thinking that they had lost interest, Wooden accepted the head coaching job with the Bruins instead. Officials from the University of Minnesota contacted Wooden right after he accepted the position at UCLA, but he declined their offer because he had given his word to the Bruins.[3][28]

Wooden had immediate success, fashioning an "instant turnaround" for an undistinguished, faltering program. Prior to his arrival, UCLA had only had two winning seasons in the previous 18 years. In his first season, he took a UCLA team that had a 12–13 record the previous year and transformed it into a Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) Southern Division champion with a 22–7 record,[3] the most wins in a season for UCLA since it started playing basketball in 1919.[29] He surpassed that number the next season with 24–7 and a second division title and overall conference title in 1950, and would add two more in his first four years. Up to that time, UCLA had collected a total of two division titles since the PCC began divisional play, and hadn't won a conference title of any sort since winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1927.

In spite of these achievements, Wooden reportedly did not initially enjoy his position, and his wife did not favor living in Los Angeles. When Mel Taube left Purdue in 1950, Wooden's inclination was to return and finally accept the head coaching job there. He was ultimately dissuaded when UCLA officials reminded him that it was he who had insisted upon a three-year commitment during negotiations in 1948. Wooden felt that leaving UCLA prior to the expiration of his contract would be tantamount to breaking his word.[30]

By the 1955-56 season, Wooden had established a sustained success at UCLA. That year, he guided the team to its first undefeated PCC conference title, and a 17-game winning streak that came to an end only at the hands of Bill Russell's University of San Francisco team in the 1956 NCAA Tournament. However, UCLA was unable to advance from this level over the immediately ensuing seasons, finding itself unable to return to the NCAA Tournament as the Pete Newell-coached teams at the University of California, Berkeley took control of the conference at the end of the decade. Also hampering the fortunes of Wooden's team during that time period was a probation imposed on all UCLA sports in the aftermath of a scandal involving illegal payments made to players on the school's football team, along with USC, Cal and Stanford, resulting in the dismantling of the PCC conference.[31]

By 1962, with the probation no longer in place, Wooden had righted the basketball program's ship and returned his team to the top of the conference. This time, however, they would take the next step, and in so doing, unleash a run of dominance unparalleled in the history of college basketball. A narrow loss, due largely to a controversial foul call, in the semifinal of the 1962 NCAA Tournament convinced Wooden that his Bruins were ready to contend for national championships.[31] Two seasons later, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place when assistant coach Jerry Norman persuaded Wooden that the team's small-sized players and fast-paced offense would be complemented by the adoption of a zone press defense.[31] The result was a dramatic increase in scoring, giving UCLA a powerhouse team that went undefeated on its way to the school's first basketball national championship.

Wooden's team repeated as national champions the following season before the 1966 squad fell briefly, finishing second in the conference to Oregon State. UCLA was ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament that year, because in those days only conference champions went to the tournament. However, the Bruins' 1967 incarnation returned with a vengeance, reclaiming not only the conference title, but the national crown with an undefeated season, and then retaining it every season but one until Wooden's retirement in 1975.

In January 1968, UCLA took its 47-game winning streak to the Astrodome in Houston, where Lew Alcindor squared off against Elvin Hayes in the Game of the Century before a national television audience. Houston upset UCLA 71-69 as Hayes scored 39 points. In a post-game interview, Wooden said, "We have to start over." Start over they did, as UCLA went undefeated the rest of year and trashed Houston 101-69 in the semi-final rematch of the NCAA tournament en route to the national championship.

The resurgence of the Bruins under Wooden made it obvious that they needed a new home. Since 1932, the Bruins had played at the Men's Gym. It normally seated 2,400, but had been limited to 1,500 since 1955 by order of the city fire marshal. This forced the Bruins to move games to Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and other venues around Los Angeles when they were expected to attract larger crowds—something that happened fairly often after the Bruins' first national title. At Wooden's urging, a much larger on-campus facility, Pauley Pavilion, was built in time for the 1965-66 season.

Wooden coached what would prove to be his final game in Pauley Pavilion on March 1, 1975, in a 93–59 victory over Stanford. Four weeks later, following a 75–74 overtime victory over Louisville in the 1975 NCAA Tournament semifinal game, Wooden announced that he would retire at age 64 immediately after the championship game.[32] His legendary coaching career concluded triumphantly, as his team responded with a win over Kentucky to claim Wooden's first career coaching victory over the Wildcats and his unprecedented 10th national championship.

In 2004, a 93-year old Wooden stated that he wouldn't mind coming back as an assistant who could help players with practices and other light duties.[33]

During his tenure with the Bruins, Wooden became known as the "Wizard of Westwood" (although he personally disdained the nickname)[30] and gained lasting fame with UCLA by winning 620 games in 27 seasons and 10 NCAA titles during his last 12 seasons, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.[2] His UCLA teams also had a record winning streak of 88 games[34][35] and four perfect 30–0 seasons.[2] They also won 38 straight games in NCAA Tournaments[2] and 98 straight home game wins at Pauley Pavilion. Wooden was named NCAA College Basketball's "Coach of the Year" in 1964, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973. In 1967, he was named the Henry Iba Award USBWA College Basketball Coach of the Year. In 1972, he shared Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award with Billie Jean King. He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 1973,[36] becoming the first to be honored as both a player and a coach.[3][4]

"He never made more than $35,000 a year salary (not including camps and speaking engagements), including 1975, the year he won his 10th national championship, and never asked for a raise," wrote Rick Reilly of ESPN. He was given a Bruin powder blue Mercedes that season as a retirement gift.[37] According to his own writings, Wooden turned down an offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers from owner Jack Kent Cooke that may have been ten times what UCLA was paying him.

Criticism of Wooden with regard to his stewardship of the UCLA basketball program has most often focused on his failure to investigate or curtail his players' involvement with Sam Gilbert, a UCLA booster who was a prominent figure in the players' circle in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.[38][39][40][41][42] A 1981 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that Gilbert had regularly helped athletes get discounts on items such as automobiles, stereos and airline tickets for UCLA players, and in so doing, apparently committed numerous violations of NCAA regulations.[39][43][44] The investigation did not uncover evidence that Wooden had explicit personal awareness of Gilbert's activities.[39] However, Gilbert's overall influence in the lives of the players was so well known,[45] the Times reporters concluded that if Wooden was not cognizant of the specifics of Gilbert's favors for players, it was only because Wooden made no effort to discover those details.[39][46] For his part, Wooden acknowledged that he had always felt uneasy about Gilbert's relationship with the players, but steadfastly denied having knowledge at the time of anything done by Gilbert that was in violation of NCAA regulations.[39][40][47][48] He also asserted that both he and UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan had advised players to steer clear of Gilbert, but that ultimately they could not control the players' or Gilbert's actions.[49] Given what later came to light, however, Wooden granted that he may have had "tunnel vision"[39][47] and that he perhaps "trusted too much". Nonetheless, Wooden said that his "conscience [was] clear" with regard to his own role in the matter.[39]

Head coaching record

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List of championships

Year Record Final Opponent Final Score Notes
1964 30–0 Duke 98–83 John Wooden wins his first national title in his sixteenth season at UCLA. Senior Walt Hazzard stars for UCLA as the Bruins make a 16–0 run late in the first half to beat Duke and their All-American Jeff Mullins.[50]
1965 28–2 Michigan 91–80 The Bruins are led by senior All-American guard Gail Goodrich and their zone press. Goodrich scores 42 points in the final against Michigan and Cazzie Russell.[50]
1967 30–0 Dayton 79–64 The Bruins start a junior and four sophomores, including Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). UCLA defeats unranked Dayton and Don May in the title game.[50]
1968 29–1 North Carolina 78–55 UCLA's 47-game winning streak comes to an end on January 20 when the Bruins are beaten by Houston and All-American Elvin Hayes in the Astrodome 71–69 in front of the biggest college basketball crowd in NCAA history (52,693) in the nation's first nationally televised regular season college basketball game. The game was known as the Game of the Century. Lew Alcindor was limited from having been hospitalized the week before with a scratched cornea. The Bruins, at full strength, avenged the loss in a rematch with Houston in the NCAA semi-finals, beat the Cougars 101–69. UCLA then defeated North Carolina in the title game to become the only team to win consecutive NCAA championships twice.[50]
1969 29–1 Purdue 92–72 UCLA defeats Wooden's alma mater Purdue and their All-America Rick Mount in the championship game. UCLA becomes the only school to win three NCAA Basketball Championships in a row and Wooden becomes the first coach to win five NCAA championships. Lew Alcindor finishes his career at UCLA with an 88–2 record.[50]
1970 28–2 Jacksonville 80–69 Even with the graduation of Alcindor (Abdul-Jabbar), UCLA wins its fourth in a row. The Bruins come back from a nine-point first half deficit as junior Sidney Wicks and the Bruins outlast Artis Gilmore, Rex Morgan, Chip Dublin, and Pembrook Burrows of Jacksonville in the title game.[50]
1971 29–1 Villanova 68–62 Senior Steve Patterson scores 29 points in the championship game against Villanova and tourney MVP Howard Porter as UCLA wins their fifth in a row. In their regional final, UCLA overcomes an 11-point deficit to defeat Long Beach State, 57–55.[50]
1972 30–0 Florida State 81–76 Sophomore Bill Walton leads the Bruins to their sixth championship in a row. The Bruins have a rough time with Florida State and their great ball handler, Otto Petty, in the closest game of all their title wins, but their margin of victory in the NCAA tournament is a record 30.3 points. They become the first team to post three 30–0 seasons.[50]
1973 30–0 Memphis State 87–66 The Bruins become the only team in history with back-to-back undefeated seasons as they win their seventh straight. In the championship game, junior Bill Walton hits 21 of 22 field goal attempts and scores 44 points in one of the greatest offensive performances in the history of the NCAA tournament.[50]
1975 28–3 Kentucky 92–85 Coach Wooden ends his 27-year UCLA coaching career by winning his tenth national championship in 12 years. He announces his retirement during the post-game press conference of the semi-final win against Louisville, and the UCLA players give him a going away present with a win over Kentucky and their captain, Jimmy Dan Conner. For the Bruins, Richard Washington and Dave Meyers score 28 and 24 points respectively to offset Kevin Grevey's game-high 34.[50]


It is difficult to overstate Wooden's impact on UCLA, and the game at large. When he arrived at UCLA in 1948, he inherited a little-known program that played in a cramped gym. He left it as a national powerhouse with 10 national championships—arguably the most successful rebuilding project in college basketball history.

The John Wooden era at UCLA is unrivaled in terms of national championships. Tennessee's long-time women's basketball coach Pat Summitt won eight championships (and more total games than Wooden).[51] For men's basketball, Adolph Rupp and Mike Krzyzewski have won four national championships; Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight[52][53] have won three titles, with Knight also having an undefeated season[52] (Wooden had four perfect seasons,[2] with Geno Auriemma also having four with the Connecticut women's team; no other men's or women's Division I coach has more than one).

In 2009, Wooden was named The Sporting News "Greatest Coach of All Time".[54]


Wooden has been recognized numerous times for his achievements. After his coaching career ended UCLA continued to honor Wooden with the title of Head Men's Basketball Coach Emeritus.[55] On November 17, 2006, Wooden was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He was one of five, along with Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Dean Smith and Dr. James Naismith, selected to represent the inaugural class.[56] He was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009 in St. Louis. Coach Wooden was the ninth honoree in the Missouri Valley Conference's Lifetime Achievement category.[23] Wooden said the honor he was most proud of was "Outstanding Basketball Coach of the U.S." by his denomination, the Christian Church.[50]

Since 1977, the most coveted of four college basketball player of the year awards has been named the John R. Wooden Award. This award has attained the status of being the equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy for college basketball, with the winner announced during a ceremony held at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.[57] The MVP award for the McDonald's All-American Game in high-school basketball is named the "John R. Wooden Most Valuable Player Award". Two annual doubleheader men's basketball events called the "John R. Wooden Classic"[58] and the "John R. Wooden Tradition"[59] are held in Wooden's honor.

He has schools and athletic facilities named after him. The gym at his alma mater Martinsville High School bears his name,[50] and in 2005 a high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District was renamed to John R. Wooden High School.[60] In 2003, UCLA dedicated the basketball court in Pauley Pavilion in honor of John and Nell Wooden.[61] Named the "Nell & John Wooden Court," Wooden asked for the change from the original proposal of the "John & Nell Wooden Court," insisting that his wife's name should come first.[62] In 2008, Indiana State also bestowed this honor on Wooden by naming their home court in the Hulman Center the "Nellie and John Wooden Court."[63] The student recreation center at UCLA is also named in his honor.[64] Also in 2008, Wooden was honored with a commemorative bronze plaque in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Memorial Court of Honor because his UCLA basketball teams played six seasons in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.[65] On Wooden's 96th birthday in 2006, a post office in Reseda, California, near where Wooden's daughter lives, was renamed the Coach John Wooden Post Office.[66] This act was signed by President George W. Bush based on legislation introduced by Congressman Brad Sherman.[2]

On July 23, 2003, John Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. It was presented by George W. Bush after a three-year campaign by Andre McCarter, who was on Wooden's 1975 National Championship team. The Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach established the John Wooden Ethics in Leadership Award in 2009, with Wooden being the inaugural recipient.[67] In 1986 John Wooden was honored as an Outstanding Alumnus of the School of Liberal Arts at Purdue University – the first year the award was given.

On October 14, 2010, the Undergraduate Student Association Council of UCLA held a "John Wooden Day Celebration" to honor Wooden's 100th birthday and to commemorate his contributions to the university.[68] A portion of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame at Morgan Center is a recreation of Wooden's den office in honor of his memory on campus.[69]

Golf Digest lists John Wooden as one of four people to hit both a double eagle and a hole in one in the same round of golf.[70] The feat was accomplished in 1947 at the South Bend Country Club in South Bend, Indiana.

The flagship leadership development program of Wooden’s fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, is named "The John and Nellie Wooden Institute for Men of Principle" after Coach Wooden and his wife, Nellie.[71] Coach Wooden’s maxims and creed are central to the teaching of leadership development at the Institute.

On May 17, 2004 he was awarded the Ambassador Award of Excellence by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission at the Riviera Country Club.[72]

On October 26, 2012, a bronze statue of Wooden by sculptor Blair Buswell was dedicated at the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion.[73][74]

Following Wooden

Four coaches left UCLA in the nine years following Wooden. One former UCLA head coach, former ESPN analyst and current St. John's head coach Steve Lavin (fired from UCLA in 2003), has said "The mythology and pathology of UCLA basketball isn't going to change" due to Wooden's legacy and believes that every basketball coach will eventually be fired or forced out from UCLA.[75]

Wooden's immediate successor at UCLA, Gene Bartow, went 28–5 in 1976, but was blown out twice that season by the eventual national champions Indiana, the second time in the '76 Final Four, and lost 76–75 in the 1977 West Region semi-finals to Idaho State. Bartow won 85.2% of his games (compared to Wooden's 80.8%) in two years, yet supposedly received death threats from unsatisfied UCLA fans. Wooden himself has often joked about being a victim of his own success, calling his successors on the phone and playfully identifying himself ominously as "we the alumni..."[76] In his autobiography, Wooden recounts walking off the court after his last game coaching in 1975, having just won his tenth title, only to have a UCLA fan walk up and say, "Great win coach, this makes up for letting us down last year" (UCLA had lost in the semi-finals in double overtime in 1974 to eventual national champion North Carolina State).[77] Bartow's successor, Wooden protege Gary Cunningham, posted an even better two-year record after Bartow, .862 (50–8) and No. 2 rankings each year, but could not proceed past two wins in the NCAAs, and left. Larry Brown came next, racking up more losses, 17, in two years than UCLA had experienced the previous four, yet with a near magical end-of-season run typical of his career, he managed to coach UCLA into the title game in 1980. He left. UCLA went 20 years after Wooden's retirement before winning another national basketball championship, finally hanging a banner again in 1995 under coach Jim Harrick. In 2006, Ben Howland led the team back to the national championship game for the first time since the 1995 title game.[29]

Personal life

Wooden met his future wife, Nellie (Nell) Riley, at a carnival in July 1926.[78] They married in a small ceremony in Indianapolis in August 1932 and afterward attended a Mills Brothers concert at the Circle Theatre to celebrate.[79] John and his wife have a son, James Hugh Wooden, and a daughter, Nancy Anne Muehlhausen.[2] Nellie died on March 21, 1985[2] from cancer.[80]

Wooden remained devoted to Nellie until his own death decades after hers. He kept to a monthly ritual — health permitting — on the 21st of every month, when he would visit her grave then write a love letter to her. After completing each letter, he placed it in an envelope and added it to a stack of similar letters that accumulated over the years on the pillow she slept on during their life together.[81] Wooden only stopped writing the letters in the last months of his life due to failing eyesight.[82]

In mourning Nellie's death, Wooden was comforted by his faith.[83] He was a devout Christian, considering his beliefs more important to him than basketball: "I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior."[84] Wooden's faith strongly influenced his life. He read the Bible daily and attended the First Christian Church.[83] He said that he hoped his faith was apparent to others: "If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me."[85]

Final years and death

Wooden was in good health until the final years of his life. On April 3, 2006, he spent three days in a Los Angeles hospital receiving treatment for diverticulitis.[86] He was hospitalized again in 2007 for bleeding in the colon, with his daughter quoted as saying her father was "doing well" upon his subsequent release.[87] Wooden was hospitalized on March 1, 2008, after a fall in his home. He broke his left wrist and his collarbone in the fall, but remained in good condition according to his daughter and was given around-the-clock supervision.[88] In February, 2009, he was hospitalized for four weeks with pneumonia.[89]

On May 26, 2010, Wooden was admitted to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after suffering from dehydration and remained hospitalized there until his death the following week.[90] He died of natural causes on June 4, 2010, 4 months and 10 days shy of his 100th birthday.[91][92][93] Wooden was interred with his wife Nellie in an outdoor community mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park following a private ceremony, and a public memorial service was held two weeks later at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

Seven Point Creed

John Wooden's Seven Point Creed,[94] given to him by his father Joshua upon his graduation from grammar school:

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Make each day your masterpiece.
  • Help others.
  • Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  • Make friendship a fine art.
  • Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  • Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Wooden also authored a lecture and a book about the Pyramid of Success.[95] The Pyramid of Success consists of philosophical building blocks for winning at basketball and at life. In his later years he was hired by corporations to deliver inspirational lectures and even appeared in commercials for Hartford Insurance and the NCAA. Following his death, all UCLA teams wore either a patch or helmet sticker with the initials "JRW" inside a black pyramid, in honor of his philosophy. It is generally known that he received lecture fees that exceeded the salaries he was paid as a coach. Wooden proudly claimed that these late in life windfalls allowed him to set up education accounts for all of his grandchildren. In a 2009 interview, John Wooden described himself politically as a "liberal Democrat," who had voted for some Republican presidential candidates. At the top of the Pyramid of Success was "Competitive Greatness" which Wooden defined as "Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day."[96]

Wooden was also the author of several other books about basketball and life.

Among Wooden's maxims:

  • Failing to prepare is preparing to fail (from Benjamin Franklin)
  • Flexibility is the key to stability
  • Be quick, but don't hurry[97][98]
  • Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference


  • Coach John Wooden and Don Yaeger (2009) A Game Plan for Life, Bloomsbury USA, ISBN 978-1-59691-701-9
  • John Wooden (2009) Coach Wooden's Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-162614-9
  • John Wooden with Steve Jamison (2006) The Essential Wooden, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-148435-0
  • John Wooden with Swen Nater (2006) John Wooden's UCLA Office, Human Kinetics. ISBN 978-0-7360-6180-3
  • John Wooden (2005) Wooden on Leadership, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-145339-4
  • John Wooden with Steve Jamison (2004) My Personal Best, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-143792-9
  • John Wooden (2003) They Call Me Coach, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-142491-2
  • John Wooden with Steve Jamison (1997) Wooden, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-8092-3041-9
  • John Wooden (1966) Practical Modern Basketball. The Ronald Press Company.

See also

Biography portal


External links

  • Pyramid of Success (Printable PDF)
  • The Coach Wooden Cup
  • The Wooden Course – Designed to teach Wooden's life philosophy
  • Bill Walton's tribute to Wooden
  • N.Y. Times Obituary for John Wooden
  • Find a Grave
  • Life magazine
  • Video: Coach John Wooden speaks about basketball, life and death
  • Video: Vin Scully talks about how he met Coach John Wooden
  • John Wooden on the difference between winning and success
  • John Wooden's business partner and co-author, Steve Jamison speaks about the legendary UCLA coach on Hard Court Lessons Radio

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