Sports celebrities and hundreds of basketball fans will gather Saturday morning for the presentation of the prestigious John Wooden Keys to Life Award, which will this year honor NBA legend David Thompson.
The presentation will be the highlight of the 2009 Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast event, which has grown to become one of the premier events of the NCAA Final Four weekend.
"This event is one of the best I have attended, where character is so strongly emphasized," says Jerry Colangelo, chairman and CEO of the Phoenix Suns.
Established in 1998 by Athletes in Action and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast is a part of the "Sports Legend Series," which also includes the Super Bowl Breakfast, the All-Star Breakfast (held annually during NBA All-Star weekend) and the Night of Champions dinner. The series is designed to honor athletes and coaches who model exemplary character, values, integrity and faith.
Though words such as moral character, integrity and faith are ones that can today be used to describe this year's honoree, David Thompson, they weren't years ago.
In fact, Thompson had his professional career cut short as a result of alcohol and cocaine problems.
"In 1978 I was given the highest contract ever given to anybody in the history of teams sports – a five year, $4 million contract, which now seems like a very small amount, but back then it was the highest of anybody in any team sport," recalled the man described by Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown as the "Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan."
"Along with the contract came a lot of pressure," Thompson told CBN's Andrew Knox in a past interview. "I made some really bad choices, I got involved in drugs and alcohol, and as a result, my career started going downhill."
It wasn't until after his NBA career that Thompson became a committed Christian through encouragement from his pastor and turned his life around. Since then, Thompson has dedicated his life to helping others make good choices through teamwork, commitment, faith and the pursuit achieve personal bests.
"I am thankful that I can use my life as an example to help others, as I was able through the grace of God to overcome adversity in my life," says a now 54-year-old Thompson, who was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1996.
The John Wooden Keys to Life Award that Thompson will be presented Saturday honors athletes who model the characteristics of college basketball legend John Wooden, including his high level of moral character, integrity and faith, on and off the court.
Wooden's legacy reflects the life-long pursuit of a creed his father gave him at age 12, entitled "Keys to Life."
The "keys" are to:
• Make each day your masterpiece
• Help others
• Be true to yourself
• Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
• Make friendship a fine art
• Build shelter against a rainy day
• Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day
Though it has been more than 30 years since Wooden retired as the head coach of the UCLA men's basketball team, his 10 NCAA National Championships in 12 years while at UCLA and 88 consecutive victories are unmatched by any other college basketball coach. Wooden, who will turn 99 this October, is also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (class of 1961) and as a coach (class of 1973).
The John Wooden Keys to Life Award will be presented during the Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. ET at Detroit's COBO Convention Center. Recent recipients include Hubert Davis (2008), Jim Haney (2007), and Lorenzo Romar (2006).