The name John Wooden has always meant a lot to me. Even in my early teens, as a clunky kid who dreamed of some day playing basketball for a living, the amazing run he had at UCLA was nothing short of amazing. Sure, he had the players, but his style of coaching was revered at a level of someone who had retired years ago and was a living legend. John achieved legendary status at the prime of his career.
What I knew very little about was his dedication to his wife. He never left her out of his life, even insisting that when they wanted to name a basketball court after him, he insisted on the name being “The Nellie and John Wooden Court”.
Nellie died on March 21st, 1985. On the 21st of every month following her death, John would visit her grave and then write a love letter to her. On her side of their bed, he had a picture of her and a stack of love letters he had written over the years.
I heard Bill Walton talking about his relationship with John on ESPN this morning. He started to cry as he recalled the first time he got on a plane and couldn’t call Wooden. It was a routine he had continued for 40 years. Whenever Walton had to travel, he’d always call John before the plane took off and get caught up.
Sometimes when people die, they are elevated to sainthood in spite of how they really lived their lives. John was one of the few walking saints this world has seen. Humble, God-fearing and the ultimate basketball mind. I remember that a couple of times in my college days, I actually got to go over and play some pick up basketball games at Pauley Pavillion, where UCLA played. I remember being awed, not because of the players who had played there, but because it was John Wooden’s home court. He had walked on this floor, the one I was playing on.
John passed away over the weekend at age 99. He made life count, but also made life better for more people than can be counted.
Check out this link for even more on John Wooden.
One amazing fellow.