"Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."~ John Wooden.
There are men who define what it is to be a man and I was about to shake the hand of such a man. It's something I will remember for the rest of my life. "Coach ~ I'd be honored if you would sign your book"
Honored was an understatement. Here stood a man who exemplified everything I believed a man should be. Principled, tough, tender, competitive, disciplined, and a man of faith who lived to help others realize more of their god given potential. Coach John Wooden was a true testament of a mans life filled with meaning and substance.
Coach set the bar so high that the rest of us could only hope to achieve and be one tenth his measure. The numbers are legendary.
An 88 game winning streak - Four 30 - 0 winning seasons - Championship after Championship, Ten of them over all and 38 straight NCAA tournament wins. But his numbers were not what impressed me so much - it was the man, his character and the influence he had on other men. The players who bought in to his principles would one day become lifelong friends and those who didn't would never understand.
There was the legendary day that Bill Walton, already a superstar player and a rebellious young firebrand, showed up at practice with a fiery red beard growing on his chin. Coach Wooden had a policy of no facial hair and Walton exclaimed "It's my right". That's good Bill, Wooden replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. ~ We are going to miss you."
You will read many stories about Coach Wooden. How he refused to play his team in the NAIB tournament because it wouldn't allow black players to compete - how he married his high school sweetheart, the only woman he ever dated, and remained with her for life - how his winning percentage of .813 will probably never be equaled -how in forty years he never made more than 35k a year coaching and when offered ten times that amount in a year to coach again for UCLA he refused. How after his wife died, in 1985, he continued to write a letter to her on the 21st of every month until the day he died, twenty five years later.
He was an honored veteran of World War II, a member of our greatest generation and he was THE COACH. He graciously signed my book, smiled, and thanked me for my interest ~ He Thanked Me !!
I came away from my brief meeting with Coach John Wooden with a treasured memory, a book of wisdom and a warm handshake from a man who set the bar on what it is to be a man so high that I realized I had an enormous amount of work to do. ~ Rest in Peace Coach.