Current weather

  • Scattered clouds
  • 54°
    Scattered clouds

Wooden's lessons about life

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2002

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He quotes Cervantes, Thomas Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson.

He takes Larry Brown's side over Allen Iverson's.

He revels in the number of academic All-Americans he coached more than the titles he won.

He is John Wooden, still rounding the speaking circuit at age 91, talking about life, family, teaching and, yes, a little bit of basketball.

''I don't get around very well these days,'' he said Tuesday during a stop at the University of Florida, his sparkling blue eyes glancing over to the cane he now uses to walk. ''Otherwise, I'm better than I have any right to be. I've been blessed in so many ways.''

It has been 27 years since The Wizard of Westwood last coached -- or taught, as he likes to put it -- at UCLA, where he won 10 national titles and put together one of the greatest dynasties sports has ever seen.

He still disdains the dunk, thinks it's prettier to watch a player simply lay the ball in the basket. He thinks TV has oversaturated the college game and turned the players into 1-on-1 showmen instead of true teammates.

''But there is no progress without change,'' he concedes.

And those who believe the game has passed Wooden by should think again.

He keeps up with the news and has opinions on almost any topic surrounding the sport he helped define a generation ago.

-- With the NBA draft coming soon, the traditional handwringing over the quality of basketball, both in college and the pros, is in full swing. Wooden thinks players who skip college are making a mistake. He's isn't as concerned for the game as he is for the athletes.

''They're missing a wonderful time -- four years of being around people their own age, with their own interests,'' Wooden said. ''They're losing something they can't regain.''

-- He thinks Shaquille O'Neal has gotten much better in the past few years, but still isn't one of the greatest to play the game.

''To think he's skilled to the extent of Lew Alcindor, Bill Russell, or Bill Walton -- no,'' Wooden said. ''But he doesn't need to be. Nor did they need to be what he is.''

-- He doesn't claim to be an expert about the recent tiff between Brown and Iverson (the 76ers coach questioned Iverson's work ethic and proclivity to miss practices, and Iverson called a news conference to rant against Brown), but there's no doubt whose side Wooden takes in this debate.

''If he's missing practices, that's not good,'' Wooden said. ''I'd have a little trouble with that.''

Indeed, it has always been practices -- the teaching part -- that made Wooden tick.

''I told the players, 'My job's during the week, your job is when game starts. Now do it and we'll find out whether I'm doing a good job with you,''' Wooden said.

He led UCLA to seven straight titles between 1967 and 1973, helped put together a record 88-game winning streak and built more solid relationships than most people would ever dream of.

He has two kids, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Most live within 60 miles of his home in Los Angeles, where he still keeps a shrine of sorts to his wife, Nellie, who died of cancer in 1985. The family visits often, and so do dozens of players who passed through his system.

He taught them everything -- from how to put on their socks, to how to get through a pick and roll. Sooner or later, almost all of those who followed his unbending rules realized they had learned as much about basketball as life.

''That is what John Wooden teaches -- the ability to learn how to learn,'' Walton wrote in a recent tribute to the coach.

Wooden, who taught English before he coached basketball, believes the formula is simple. The laws of learning are the same whether they apply to ''baseball or basketball, or parsing a sentence or writing a composition.''

And his biggest lesson of all these days: ''Learn as if you're going to live forever. Live as if you're going to die tomorrow. There's a lot of sense in that, really.''



CONTACT US

  • 150 Trading Bay Rd, Kenai, AK 99611
  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS