AKA John Robert Wooden
Birthplace: Hall, IN
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Natural Causes
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Basketball, Author, Educator
Party Affiliation: Democratic
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Winningest-ever college basketball coach
Military service: US Navy (1942-46 Lieutenant, Senior Grade)
John Wooden coached the basketball team at UCLA for 27 years. Under his leadership, the Bruins won 620 games and lost just 147. They won ten NCAA championships, and went undefeated through four different complete seasons -- 1963-64, 1966-67, 1971-72, and 1972-73. Wooden's Bruins established a still-standing record 88-game winning streak, before losing on 19 January 1974 at Notre Dame, 71-70.
His parents were farmers. Wooden, born just 28 years after James Naismith invented the game, always loved basketball, and his first ball was constructed by his mother. He remembered it as "a wobbly thing sewed together using rolled-up rags she had stuffed into some black cotton hose. Dad nailed an old tomato basket with the bottom knocked out to one end of the hayloft in the barn. That's how I got started playing the game of basketball."
In high school he played guard, and made the All-State Team all three years. His team won the state championship in 1927, and lost in the final playoff game the year before and the year after. He played college ball for Purdue University, winning numerous honors there, including three-time All-American and captain of his team. His Boilermakers won two Big Ten championships, and the national championship in 1932. For his hustle and crazy dives for the ball, Wooden was nicknamed "the Indiana Rubber Man".
After college, he played professionally for seven years, for three teams in three different leagues -- the NBA had not yet been imagined. He spent five of his pro years with a team called the Indianapolis Kautskys, but the pay was minimal and unreliable, and it went without saying that pro players also had real-world jobs to make the rent. For Wooden, in all the years he played pro ball, he also taught high school -- and, of course, coached the schools' basketball teams.
His first season coaching at Dayton (KY) High School, his team won 6 games, and lost 11. It was Wooden's only losing season as a coach; the next year his team made the playoffs. After that he took a new job at South Bend (IN) Central High School, where he also taught English. To make ends meet, he worked part-time as an editor for a local publisher, and he was still playing professional ball. By the time he left Central High, his coaching record was 218-42.
After Pearl Harbor Wooden joined the Navy, where he served four years and was promoted to Lieutenant. When his military duty was finished, he was hired to teach and coach at Indiana State Teachers' College (now known as Indiana State University). In his first season as coach, his Sycamores won the conference title and a berth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament. Coach Wooden personally rejected the invitation, because African-American players were not permitted to compete. "Clarence Walker was on my team," Wooden remembers, "and, well, he wasn't one of the ones that got to play very much. But they wouldn't let him come, so I wouldn't go to the tournament."
The next season, Indiana State repeated as conference champions, and the tournament changed its rules and allowed black players. Wooden's benchwarmer, Walker, became the first African-American to play in the NAIA tournament. In two seasons at Indiana State, Wooden's teams went 47-14, and the next year he was offered the job at UCLA.
In his first four seasons in California, the Bruins won the Pacific Coast Conference championship every year. Then championships became an occasional thing, and in a few years, Wooden's teams won only a few more games than they lost. But in 1964 -- Wooden's 15th year at UCLA -- his Bruins won their first national championship, defeating Duke 98-83 in Kansas City. They won national championships again in 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1975 -- ten national titles in twelve seasons.
While Wooden was coach, almost all of his players graduated. Several of his Bruins had long careers as professional basketball players, most notably Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lucius Allen, Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard, and Bill Walton. Wooden was proud that most of his players went on to successful careers outside of basketball. "I stressed academics, and my players will tell you that," he said. "I had one player that didn't get his degree until 20 years after he left, and he said he finally went back to school to get it, just to get me off his back. They were here to get an education. That's number one and must always be number one."
He always treated players and officials with respect, never with the Bobby Knight-style fury and bombast. In his entire career as player and coach, he received just two technical fouls -- and he always maintained that one of them was called by mistake, when someone behind him yelled a profanity, and the referee thought it was Wooden.
After retiring from coaching, Wooden spoke often at corporate, military, and sports meetings, expounding on his theories to maximize personal and team accomplishments, which he called the "Pyramid of Success". He was in great demand as a motivational speaker, but he rarely addressed audiences of big-money donors, or where the admission price was too high. "I'm not comfortable with that," he said. "Not everyone can give that kind of money and those who give smaller amounts are just as important."
Among his many noted "Woodenisms", he often said, "A good coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment," and "A man may make mistakes, but he isnít a failure until he starts blaming someone else."
In 2003, UCLA renamed its basketball court, Pauley Pavilion, as "The Nell and John Wooden Court at Pauley Pavilion". It was Wooden's idea to include his wife's name. She had always been a familiar presence behind the bench during Wooden's long career, and he said that he could not have achieved his successes without her. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 99.
Father: Joshua Hugh Wooden (farmer, d. 1950)
Mother: Roxie Anna Wooden
Brother: Maurice Wooden (principal, West Covina High School)
Sister: Cordelia Wooden (d. diphtheria, age 2)
Brother: Daniel Wooden
Sister: (d. infancy)
Brother: William Wooden
Wife: Nellie Riley (homemaker, d. 21-Mar-1985 cancer)
Son: James Hugh Wooden
Daughter: Nancy Anne Muehlhausen
High School: Martinsville High School, Martinsville, Ind. (1928)
University: BA English, Purdue University (1932)
Coach: Head Coach, Indiana State University (1946-48)
Coach: Head Coach, University of California at Los Angeles (1948-75)
Academy of Achievement (1976)
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year 1972
Basketball Hall of Fame 1961 (as a player)
Basketball Hall of Fame 1973 (as a coach)
College Basketball Hall of Fame 2006
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Risk Factors: Appendicitis
Author of books:
They Call Me Coach (2003)
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