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One of America's Greatest Coaches, John Wooden, Leaves Lasting Legacy

  • Nico Colombant

One of the greatest sports figures of the 20th century in the United States, former college basketball coach John Wooden, has died, leaving a lasting legacy of substance and success with humility.

Following Wooden's death late Friday, baseball announcer Vin Scully made a public announcement which aired on the scoreboard video screen in the middle of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, California.

"Friends, I interrupt the ball game, and I come to you with a heavy heart to make the announcement that at 6:45 p.m. tonight, Coach John Wooden passed away at Ronald Reagan UCLA hospital. The great coach at UCLA was 99 years old and would have been 100 in October. Those of us who knew him and knew him well are the ones who were blessed by his life," he said.

Wooden who grew up in small towns in Indiana became a member of the U.S. Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and as a coach, the first person to earn both distinctions.

Wooden is best known for leading the University of California of Los Angeles to an unmatched 10 national championships, including seven in a row during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

An announcer described him as he took the court for his final national championship victory, in 1975, in his final game.

"As Wooden enters the playing court, he receives a standing ovation from an overflow crowd and true to the Wooden tradition, on the outside everything appears calm."

One of the best known players to have played for him was center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was then known as Lew Alcindor.

At a ceremony honoring Wooden several years ago, Abdul-Jabbar said many prized athletes are afraid they will be exploited by their coach. "That never, ever had a possibility of happening in my experience at UCLA because of this man here. He really wanted myself and all of us who participated in the program to get our degrees and learn what it meant to be a good citizen and to be good parents and husbands and responsible human beings. And that was the most important thing for him," he said.

Abdul-Jabbar said at first he felt this was too good to be true, but he said he realized it was not after a month or two of seeing Wooden at work.

As a coach, Wooden was praised for how he taught fundamentals, passing, defense, and moving without the basketball.

He was also known for writing an inspirational book called Pyramid of Success.

At a public speaking event, when he was already in his 90s, Wooden explained his father had taught him a few things about success. "I was raised on a small farm in southern Indiana and Dad tried to teach me and my brothers that you should never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you could be, that is under your control," he said.

He said those words later helped him with his own definition for success. "Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable. I believe that is true. If you make the effort to do the best of what you are capable, trying to improve the situation that exists for you, I think that is success and I do not think others can judge that," he said.

He said people could not control their reputation or how they were perceived, but that they could control their character, and that was much more important.

His wife of 53 years died of cancer in 1985. Wooden is survived by his two children, seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and many more players who played for him and the millions of fans of his coaching and teaching.

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