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Coach John Wooden honored with Forever Stamp

The John Wooden Forever Stamp is pictured. Former UCLA coach John Wooden was honored last Saturday through a ceremony on campus.
(Courtesy of Eva Danesh)

By Eva Danesh

March 1, 2024 12:12 a.m.

The United States Postal Service honored former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden last Saturday with a ceremony dedicating a Forever Stamp that is now on sale.

Former professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joined UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, coach Valorie Kondos Field and the Wooden family at the east plaza of Pauley Pavilion to recognize the honor. Three-time NBA All-Star Jamaal Wilkes led the ceremony. Wilkes, who won four NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, played for Wooden at UCLA during two championship seasons in 1972 and 1973.

“He gave us a gift – a process – where we could each live our best lives,” Wilkes said. “This will be his enduring accomplishment.”

Abdul-Jabbar, who played for Wooden at UCLA during three consecutive championship seasons before playing 20 seasons in the NBA for the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, spoke at the event. In 2017, Abdul-Jabbar wrote The New York Times bestseller “Coach Wooden and Me,” in which he described their 50-year relationship breaking records on the court and making an impact off of it.

“This is something that I’m not surprised at – that Coach Wooden would be memorized as a national icon,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “You’ve got to be an icon to get on the stamp.”

At the event, Abdul-Jabbar spoke about his relationship with Wooden, which lasted until his passing in 2010. He said from his first season at UCLA, he saw how Wooden always put his athletes first. This form of love and desire for growth in others is the legacy Wooden has left behind, he added.

“There’s only one thing I can say, and that’s, ‘Thank you, Coach,’” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He gave it to us on both ends. He made us champs, and he made us understand life.”

(Courtesy of Eva Danesh)
Pictured are community members at the John Wooden stamp event. Former NBA athletes Jamaal Wilkes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke at the event. (Courtesy of Eva Danesh)

Derek Kan, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, unveiled the stamp’s design to the audience and recognized Wooden’s wide-reaching impact.

Kan said before the unveiling that this was not Wooden’s first honor from USPS. In 2006, a post office in Reseda, California, where much of the Wooden family is from, was dedicated to the coach.

“​​John Wooden’s lessons reached beyond basketball, providing an education to his students on life itself,” Kan said. “This is a legacy that can make us all proud here as a Bruin or as an American, and it is a legacy that we are proud to recognize with this stamp.”

The stamp, which appears in UCLA blue, features a portrait of Wooden and two figures of players. One player is wearing the number 10 to represent the Bruins’ 10 national championships during Wooden’s tenure, while the other player is wearing the number four for the team’s four undefeated seasons, Kan said.

The stamps are now being sold nationwide and are issued as Forever Stamps, which will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

(Courtesy of Eva Danesh)
Pictured are community members honoring John Wooden. Athletes, Chancellor Gene Block, and USPS employees gathered to speak about Wooden and the stamp. (Courtesy of Eva Danesh)

Kondos Field, the head coach of UCLA gymnastics from 1991 to 2019, discussed her special relationship with Wooden at the event.

She said Wooden served as her mentor and that she would often call him for advice. She said instead of telling her exactly what to do in a situation, he would encourage her to listen and trust herself, something she is reminded of often.

“In my life, whenever I’ve got a hard conversation coming up or hard meeting coming up, I take a pause,” Kondos Field said. “I see him up there with his little arms folded and his blue eyes twinkling and his cardigan just like this, and I hear him saying, ‘Just listen to and trust your heart,’ and it has never failed me.”

At the event, she said she was wearing a vintage John Wooden cardigan he had gifted her during their years of friendship, one of her most prized possessions next to the letters she received.

“The handwritten notes that my husband and I received from Coach Wooden that he wrote in his beautiful handwriting and he put in an envelope and he mailed through the United States Postal Service with a stamp makes this absolutely just not appropriate but absolutely brilliant,” Kondos Field said.

Carolyn Henrich, a UCLA alumnus, traveled from Maryland to join her siblings and Bruin friends at the ceremony and also watch the UCLA men’s basketball game against the University of Southern California on Saturday evening.

Henrich said she was a student at UCLA during Wooden’s final season – a time when many were determined to see his team play.

“Everybody did whatever they had to do to get to the game,” Henrich said. “It was definitely a big part of being here.”

Henrich said like many others, she was influenced by Wooden’s philosophies, particularly his Pyramid of Success – a framework of behaviors for achieving success. Wooden began developing the pyramid in the 1930s while teaching high school English and used it to train both his teams and – later in his career – the business he worked with.

Henrich added that she had a copy of Wooden’s pyramid at her desk while she worked at the UC and has been happy to see it shared widely, particularly on the Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso.”

At the ceremony, Christy Impelman, Wooden’s eldest granddaughter, spoke about her grandfather’s connection to those who felt the impact of his Pyramid of Success and said he personally replied to thousands of letters and autograph requests.

“He would sign or write and seal the items in an envelope and put a stamp on them. In his 99 years, he used a lot of U.S. postage stamps,” Impelman said. “This honor today is a true reflection of the way he lived his entire life.”

[Related: Wooden: the humble teacher behind the championships]

Kenny Booker, who played for Wooden in two championship seasons, said one of the reasons he chose to attend UCLA was because he saw how Wooden supported each of his team members in their overall growth. He added that he believed Wooden’s teams were successful because of his ability to outcoach other teams in thought, planning and preparation.

“I’m never surprised that coach continues to grow, even after he’s not here,” Booker said. “He was a giant. He was a legend.”

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