John Wooden was a legend. In all facets of his life- as a coach, as a father, as a husband, as a leader, and ultimately as a follower of Christ. He is without question the greatest basketball coach ever, and many would argue the greatest coach ever, period. His legacy was proven this weekend, as hundreds of athletes, coaches, celebrities, sports personalities, and enthusiasts lined up following his passing on Friday night to give soundbytes or do interviews to let the world know that they knew him.
I had the chance to meet Coach Wooden 5 years ago. He was a speaker/guest for a large leadership conference we were putting on, and at that time was 94 years old. Although a bit frail physically, his mind was incredibly sharp. He attended a small VIP event that we put on that included him and Coach Pat Summitt, from the Univ. of Tennessee, the two winningest coaches in NCAA history. He graciously shook hands of guests and took pictures, and then recited several of his poems for the crowd- it was legendary. I still get chills thinking about it. We presented him with a gift- a rare book that he had wanted for quite some time but had never been able to find. I remember so vividly his response- one of humility, surprise, and authentic joy. It was such an honor to try our best to give him a gift that he didn't have, but he gave us an incredible gift in return- a demonstration of what a true man is, what humility looks like up close.
We also asked him to sign 150 basketballs, to which he graciously agreed, and as he signed the basketballs, he carried on conversation with myself and several of our staff about some of his greatest games as a coach, his favorite players, a few stories about practice, and just general conversation. I was literally in awe of this amazing man and coach. He was persistent in signing the basketballs- several times we asked him if he wanted to take a break, and he graciously said no, but continued signing his name with UCLA centered underneath it. The same every time, on every basketball. When it was time for him to speak at the event, we escorted him across a long walkway in a golf cart, and as we did, I kept thinking to myself that I am sitting next to a legend. But what was so revealing about Coach Wooden was the way he made you feel when you were around him- like you were the most important thing happening at that time, and in no way did you ever feel inferior to him. He made you feel superior, like you were important. I am sure the same would be said by all the players who ever played for him.
There are so many things that Coach John Wooden has provided to our generation. Thanks Coach for making all of us better. For providing a legacy that will never be matched. For demonstrating leadership over the course of your life, and allowing so many of us to be inspired by your words, your Christian life, your legacy on the court, and the humility by which you lived.
You will be missed.