Monday, October 23

John Wooden, author and legendary UCLA coach, dies at 99

CORRECTION: The version of this article that ran in print on June 7 contained an error. A caption from a photo that ran with an earlier version of the story online appeared as the fourth paragraph in the print version of the article.

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, author and teacher who led the Bruins to 10 national championships and inspired generations of students and fans with a quiet brand of humility, spirit and sincerity, died Friday evening at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 99.

Wooden died of natural causes at 6:45 p.m., according to UCLA Sports Information Director Marc Dellins.

“This is a sad day at UCLA,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement released by the school. “Coach Wooden’s legacy transcends athletics; what he did was produce leaders.”

“There will never be another John Wooden,” UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said.

Wooden’s two children, Nan Muehlhausen and Jim Wooden, also released a statement Friday evening.

“We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father,” they said. “We will miss him more than words can express.”

Wooden was first admitted to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center May 26 because of dehydration. It was the latest in a series of health problems he faced in recent years. He was briefly hospitalized in 2006 and then again in 2008 after he fell and broke his left wrist and collarbone. He suffered from pneumonia in 2009.

He still continued to attend UCLA basketball games at Pauley Pavilion and at the annual John R. Wooden Classic in Anaheim but required the assistance of a wheelchair. This February he attended a UCLA gymnastics meet.

News of Wooden’s hospitalization broke Thursday, and with it came an immense show of support and emotion on the UCLA campus.

About 200 students gathered at the Bruin statue Friday at noon for an 8-clap in Wooden’s honor.

Similar support came from the professional basketball community, much of which has gathered in Los Angeles for the NBA Finals.

“He’s the greatest,” former UCLA center Bill Walton said to the Associated Press Thursday. “We love him.”

In 27 years as coach at UCLA, Wooden built the greatest dynasty in college basketball history. He led the Bruins to their first ever NCAA championship in 1964 and to nine more national titles over the next 11 seasons. In all, Wooden’s UCLA teams won 620 games and lost only 147. Those years of dominance included 19 conference titles, an 88-game win streak and four undefeated seasons.

Wooden never had a losing season at UCLA. He won with and without superstars. He coached all-time great players like Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and engineered teams like the 1975 group, which began its season with only one returning starter.

Wooden was known as a brilliant leader and mastermind of team basketball. He believed in relentless conditioning and repetition, attention to detail and, above all, the importance of working together as a team.

Wooden understood language and used it as his tool. He taught his players with memorable phrases such as, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

He asked his players to trust their preparation and to play the game without fear or hesitation. On the sideline, he stood always solid and steady.

To the sportswriters who followed him and the fans who admired him he was known simply as the “Wizard of Westwood.”

He retired from the sport in 1975, the same year he won his 10th NCAA championship in a 92-85 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. He left an indelible imprint on American sports, and a legacy of excellence on the UCLA campus.

“It is the end of an era that will never end,” then-UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan said the night Wooden announced his retirement at the Final Four in San Diego. “The memories of what he has accomplished will live forever.”

A well-read and deeply religious man, Wooden stayed in his Encino condominium after his retirement, where he lived alongside his wife Nell until her death in 1985.

Wooden never sought a life of celebrity. In his years after coaching he devoted much of his time and attention to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He conducted camps for young basketball players and speaking clinics for students. He read the Bible every day.

His legend never faded. Whenever Wooden spoke or wrote, he drew huge audiences of readers and listeners with his philosophy of faith and perseverance. He authored an autobiography in 2003 and collaborated with other writers on several books about leadership and basketball.

Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” became perhaps his most widely-recognized piece of writing and one of college basketball’s most famous teaching tools.

Wooden developed the Pyramid as a high school and college coach and distributed it to his players at the beginning of each season. The Pyramid establishes a series of crucial faculties such as self-control, patience and integrity. It culminates with Wooden’s definition of success: “Peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

The Pyramid still stands prominently on a wall at the entry of the Wooden Center, the main student gymnasium at UCLA.

Through the wisdom he offered in his writing and speaking, Wooden’s influence far surpassed the usual boundaries of athletes and coaches. In school classrooms and business boardrooms typically separate from the playing fields, Wooden remains an important model for accountability and poise.

In 2003, former President George W. Bush, awarded Wooden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“We’re not equal as far as size, or appearance, or other ways, but we are all equal in terms of having the opportunity of making the best with what we have,” Wooden said in a 1998 interview with the Daily Bruin.

When Wooden arrived in Westwood in 1948, UCLA was only 29 years old. The school had not yet emerged as a major research institution. The basketball team had no major facility. The total campus population was about one-third the size it is today.

As the university expanded and thrived throughout the next half-century, Wooden became one of its greatest symbols of achievement.

Wooden and his amazing basketball teams helped UCLA reach the levels of recognition and prestige that it holds today.

In 1972, UCLA published a book celebrating Wooden’s 25th anniversary at the school. The book began with a letter written to Wooden from then-Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young.

“If there ever was a genius in your own field, John, you epitomize it,” Young wrote. “Moreover, in you the quality has been leavened by patience and gentled by kindness. You get the most out of your men because you give your own most to them.”

John Robert Wooden was born Oct. 14, 1910 in Hall, Ind. He grew up on a farm with his mother, father and three brothers. In his teenage years his family moved to Martinsville, Ind., where Wooden starred on the Martinsville High basketball team that won the 1927 Indiana state title.

Later, Wooden attended Purdue University, where he played basketball and won a national championship under coach Ward Lambert. He was a three-time All-American and the College Player of the Year in his senior year.

In 1932, he graduated from Purdue and married Nancy “Nellie” Riley. He taught English and coached basketball at high schools in Kentucky and Indiana, and he served in the United States Navy during World War II.

In 1946 he accepted the head basketball coaching position at Indiana State University, his last job before coming to UCLA.

Wooden was the first person ever inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach.

He is survived by his two children, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

The Wooden family has requested that donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or to a charity of choice, in lieu of flowers.

A private funeral service will be held for Wooden’s family only. A public memorial for Wooden will be announced at a later date.

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