Monday, June 7, 2010

The Ultimate Mentor Passes Away

The Wizard has died.

On June 4, 2010 just months shy of his 100th birthday the man known as the Wizard of Westwood left this plane of existence to join up in the afterlife with his beloved wife of 53 years ‘Nell’. John Wooden left behind a legacy of mentoring that is second to none. The man lived with total integrity. He was never heard to utter a curse word. It’s not the lack of cursing that is so impressive. It is the fact that he lived his values so unfailingly every day.

John Wooden was arguably the greatest coach that ever lived, not just basketball – any sport. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA (7 in a row), the last in 1975 (my second year at UCLA). Nobody has ever come within six of him. His teams once won 88 straight games. He amassed perhaps the greatest winning record in sports history without ever talking about winning. He would say that:

 "Success is 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."

It’s not his impressive records that will be his most important legacy. It is the lives he touched. His former players speak of him in reverent terms as the man who molded their lives forever. Until the day he died he was still in contact with 172 of the 180 of them (more than 30 years later). Since his coaching days John Wooden has taught and inspired thousands of others, from young kids to seasoned executives. He was an unlikely hero to my partner Susan, who went to UCLA’s rival USC, and who I have to explain the game of basketball to as we watch the NBA finals. She proudly displays a picture of her and Coach. She has read his books, which are not so much about basketball, but are anthologies of wisdom. John Wooden not only transcends the game of basketball, he just transcends.
Some of my favorite mentoring stories are about the way he guided Bill Walton. The 7 footer Walton was the most coveted basketball prospect in the nation when he decided to sign with UCLA in the 1970’s. These were times of great upheaval in the country when the most prevalent bumper sticker read “question authority”. So, in the zeitgeist of the time Walton grew a beard in defiance of Coach Wooden’s policy against facial hair. When confronted Walton explained that he should have the right to assert his own individuality. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do... We're going to miss you." Walton shaved it right then and there. Since leaving UCLA Walton called once a week to tell Coach he loves him and he used to write quotes from Coach on his kids' lunch bags.

According to the New York Times, John Wooden always carried around a small piece of paper on which the words of his father were written: "Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day."

RIP “Coach”



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

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