- (Photo: AP Photo / Nick Ut)
Legendary basketball and life coach John Wooden died of natural causes Friday evening, just months shy from what would have been his 100th birthday.
The former UCLA basketball coach had been admitted into the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on May 26 and received visits by many loved ones, including former players, in the days leading up to his death.
Though famed for leading the Bruins to seven consecutive NCAA championships, ten titles, and an NCAA-record 88-game winning streak, Wooden has been more touted for his approach to the game of life and the impact he has made on the lives of those who caught wind of his exhortations – both on and off the court.
“He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport, but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world, and his enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate,” commented UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero.
“Coach Wooden's timeless teachings, philosophies and ‘Pyramid of Success’ not only influenced the lives of his players but the lives of millions of people around the world,” added current UCLA men's basketball head coach Ben Howland.
Born Oct. 14, 1910, in Hall, Ind., Wooden was one of four sons of a farmer and a house wife. Though he began playing basketball in high school, it was off the court – from his father – where he picked up the qualities that he’d later be best known for.
Wooden said he learned from his father true leadership - when to be firm, when to be flexible, when to have the strength to be gentle and when to have the strength to force compliance.
Wooden was known for reciting his father's "two sets of three" - "never lie, never cheat, never steal" and "don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses" - and a seven-point creed also passed along by his father.
Among the points were “Be true to yourself,” “Help others,” “Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible,” “Make friendship a fine art,” “Build a shelter against a rainy day,” and “Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.”
The point Wooden said he used most in his coaching was "make each day your masterpiece" – the importance of which is revealed in his “Pyramid of Success.”
At the pinnacle of the five-level pyramid is competitive greatness, which he defined as performing at one's best ability when one's best is required - which, he said, was "each day."
"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable," Wooden once said in explaining the pyramid.
During his time at UCLA, Wooden coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor - later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In Walton’s remarks following Wooden’s death, the Basketball Hall of Famer recalled how Wooden “never talked about winning and losing, but rather about the effort to win.”
“He rarely talked about basketball, but generally about life,” Walton said. “He never talked about strategy, statistics or plays, but rather about people and character. Coach Wooden never tired of telling us that once you become a good person, then you have a chance of becoming a good basketball player.”
Though funeral services for Wooden will be private, there will be a public memorial at a later date, with a reception for former players and coaches.
Wooden is survived by a son, James, of Orange County, Calif.; a daughter, Nancy Wooden, who lives in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley; three grandsons and four granddaughters; and 13 great-grandchildren.
His wife of 53 years, Nell, died of cancer in 1985.