In Memory of John Wooden

by Steve Laube

Last night the great basketball coach John Wooden passed away at the age of ninety-nine. As you can see from the photo above I had the privilege of attending one of his basketball camps during the Summer of 1974.

It was a John Wooden and Bill Sharman (then coach of the LA Lakers) camp in Honolulu. We lived and breathed basketball 24/7 during that week. We drilled during the day, sat in classes, and scrimmaged in the afternoons and evenings. It was heaven for an aspiring athlete. (For the rest of the world that week was notable because President Nixon resigned that Thursday August 8, 1974.)

During one drill Coach Wooden pointed at me and said, “Come here young man and show me how you rebound the ball.” I sheepishly came out in front the other players and for a couple minutes Coach Wooden schooled me on how to box out. No matter what I did, spinning, pushing, hip-checking, and jumping, he always snagged the rebound. I couldn’t believe this gray haired “old man” who was at least five inches shorter than me could do that. (Coach Wooden would have been 63 years old at the time.) It was only later that I found out that he was in the Hall of Fame…as a player (inducted in 1960)! No wonder he taught this skinny kid a lesson!

When that exercise was over he patted me on the back and said, “Good work, son.” He didn’t shame me, he didn’t show me up. He taught me and everyone else on the court the power of good footwork, dogged determination, and that you didn’t have to jump high to get every rebound. The memory of that is so strong I can still feel his elbows, hips, and other bones grinding into my thighs and ribs as I tried to get around him.

Later that week they had us practice free throws until we were sick of them. Little did I know that at one time in his playing days, Coach Wooden made 134 consecutive free throws in a 46 game period. And the other instructor was Bill Sharman  who led the NBA in free throw percentage seven times! (Bill Sharman still holds the record for consecutive free throws in the playoffs with 56.) Now that I look back I’m amazed at the privilege I had to receive instruction from these great coaches.

But even greater is the legacy of character and faith that he instilled in everyone. I’ve read his books and interviews, and heard numerous comments about him from former players. A couple simple sentences illustrate some of his wisdom. In last night’s Associated Press article they wrote: “Asked in a 2008 interview the secret to his long life, Wooden replied: ‘Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don’t let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.’

Asked what he would like God to say when he arrived at the pearly gates, Wooden replied, ‘Well done.'”

I suspect that is exactly what he heard last night.

13 Responses to In Memory of John Wooden

  1. Jane Teacher June 5, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    This is very sad news. Great man, great coach. I will miss him.

    • Joe Stewart March 24, 2019 at 6:00 pm #

      He was a great coach and man ! It would have been an honor to play for him RIP

  2. Steve June 5, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Here are some of Wooden’s most famous sayings, compiled by

    “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”


    “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”


    “What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”


    “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”


    “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”


    “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”


    “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”


    “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”


    “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”


    “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”


    “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”


    “Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”


    “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”


    “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

  3. Susy Flory June 5, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    Steve, thanks for taking the time to share this snapshot of Mr Wooden. What an amazing man! When I was in school at UCLA in the late 80s, his name was still spoken of using only hushed tones. What a talented and humble man, a wonderful teacher and competitor, and a testament to the power of the Gospel lived out on the basketball court. (Love the picture, too!)

  4. Rebecca LuEllaMiller June 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    What a great post, Steve. I love an “insider’s” look. The man was greater than the coach and the coach was the best in the business. And the player? We so often forget that he was such a high caliber athlete. Isn’t he in the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach?


  5. Steve June 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    Yes, he is. The first man to be inducted in the Hall of Fame as both a player and then separately as a coach. Amazing.

  6. Cindy Woodsmall June 6, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Fabulous post. His life and quotes are worthy of taking to heart. Thanks for sharing, Steve.

  7. Terry Burns June 6, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    It is evident he had another legacy in the impact that he made on your life, and I’m sure on the lives of many others that came under his tutelage.

  8. Michelle ule June 6, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Steves memory. Three generations of UCLA grads in my family were touched by Coach Woodens legacy–one of my first published stories the same year as Steves experience, was about Woodens reflection on his faith. A wonderful servant of God.

    (I’m in Italy with spotty Internet. This and WorldMagBlog are all I’ve seen.)

  9. Teri Dawn Smith June 8, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Oh my word! I can’t believe you had the privilege of being coached by John Wooden! Since I coached varsity girls basketball for a number of years, he’s one of my ultimate role models. What a wonderful memory for you. His legacy will live on.

  10. Jim Rubart June 9, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    I’m with Teri. So cool that you had that time with Wooden. I played basketball all growing up and followed his legend.

    Looking forward to a pickup game with him and you in heaven.

  11. Teri Dawn Smith June 9, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Jim, I’m gonna be on the sidelines in heaven watching that pick up game and doing some heavenly cheering.

  12. Jim Rubart June 9, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    Steve, you gotta be in the game!

    Who am I going to do the pick and roll with if not you! (Our skills will improve once we get our perfected bodies.)


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