In Memory of John Wooden

One man's long-ago encounter with the legendary basketball coach still bears blessings.

Posted in , Feb 2, 2015

John Wooden quotes, Guideposts

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a die-hard sports fan—especially basketball. I pretty much live for March Madness! I even spent part of my career as a sportswriter for a Southern Indiana newspaper. Loved it!

So, when I recently heard one of my esteemed colleagues, Steve Laube, sharing a story about his encounter with legendary basketball coach John Wooden, I hung on every detail.

Steve, owner of The Steve Laube Agency, did not disappoint. What a tremendous story! The day after Coach Wooden's death in 2010, Steve wrote about his encounter with Wooden. Steve is allowing me to share it with you as a guest blog today.

I hope it blesses you as much as it blessed me:

Steve Laube and Coach John Wooden in 1974.The great basketball coach John Wooden passed away at the age of 99. As you can see from the photo, 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 Los Angeles 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 I could do that. (Coach Wooden would have been 63 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 of simple sentences illustrate some of his wisdom. In the Associated Press obit: “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.

For more inspiration from Coach Wooden, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“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.”

“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.”

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

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