Wisdom from the Wizard of UCLA (Part 1) - John Wooden
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden speaks on basketball, growing up and life lessons.
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Growing Up With Wooden
Day 1 of 3
Guest: John Wooden
From the series: True Success: A Personal Visit with John Wooden
Bob: It was the 1920s in rural Indiana. The Depression had not yet rocked America. John Wooden was a young boy growing up on a farm, a high school student who loved basketball but who was about to meet the real love of his life.
John: I noticed this one little gal, and I didn't know, but she had noticed me, too, but I didn't know that. Somehow, on the first day of classes my freshman year, we happened to be in the same class, and I knew right then, and we knew we were going to be married by the time I got out of high school, and August 8th it would have been 70 years since last August 8th, we would have been married.
Bob: Today you'll hear the first part of a conversation with a man who grew up to be one of the greatest coaches of all time as we talk about his faith, his family, and basketball. Stay tuned as we talk with Coach John Wooden on FamilyLife Today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. I can't help but smile as I listen to that excerpt from our interview with Coach John Wooden. Of course, a lot of people are smiling right about now because this is the time of the year when March madness really takes over. There is a lot of basketball ahead for us.
Dennis: Semis are this weekend, Final Four on Monday.
Bob: It's got to bring back lots of memories for you from your college days, doesn't it?
Dennis: Well, high school. You know, going back to high school, Bob, those were my glory days. My college days, I had several splinters.
Bob: Sitting on the bench, huh?
Dennis: I got the 15th uniform out of 15 in college. I learned what it was like to be a substitute.
Bob: But your team almost went to the Final Four, didn't it?
Dennis: Well, not THE Final Four. We almost went to the Junior College National Championships in Kansas, and I'm trying to remember where in Kansas.
Bob: But that's like the Final Four for Junior Colleges, right?
Dennis: Oh, yeah, absolutely. In fact, I started that game – the last game of my college career, I started.
Bob: You poured in what – 15, 20 points?
Dennis: Now, wait a second – hold it, just one second, because they put me on an All American. This is a true story. The coach had watched me. It was the only game I started in my college career, but my coach was so impressed with me never quitting and just staying out there and being tenacious – he started me. And he put me on the quickest guy I've ever played against.
Bob: Man-to-man defense.
Dennis: Man-to-man defense, and did you know, when I left the game in the first half – I played about six or seven minutes – I had scored more points …
Bob: … than the All American, and the reason was this: He was so fast and I was so slow, he would fake three or four times, and by the time I had taken his first fake, I was back to where he was really going. And so I would post up underneath the bucket, and the guy didn't like to play defense, and I'd post up on him and score. And so when I left the game, I had actually scored more points than him.
Bob: Now, some of our listeners are wondering what are you talking about Dennis' glory days of basketball on FamilyLife Today?
Dennis: Because we really don't have anything else to talk about. No, that's not true. We have a guest today – well, Bob, a dream of mine, and I sent you a note one day. I said, "Bob, you know, one of the people I would really like in all the world to interview for FamilyLife Today and for our listeners and give them a glimpse of what a great human being he is, what many have described as the greatest coach of any sport of all time – Coach John Wooden." Now, there are a number of our listeners who have no idea who John Wooden is, but a ton do.
Bob: Coach Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins back in the '60s and the '70s.
Dennis: Well, actually, he started coaching in 1948. That's what most people don't realize is. He didn't build that national championship dominant team in the '60s and '70s. He built it in obscurity beginning in 1948 throughout all the '50s and early '60s before he won his first national championship in 1964.
Bob: And after he won his first one, then he won his second and his third and his fourth and his fifth and his sixth. Over a 12-year period he won 10 national championships.
Dennis: That's right, including winning 88 games in a row before they were knocked off at the Houston Astrodome, and I remember watching this game as a young man, where Lew Alcindor was playing against Elvin Hayes, and Houston beat them 71-69, and the Astrodome had, like, 49,000 people in it. It was nationally televised. It was an event, and there are few coaches that could claim the accomplishments that – in any sport – what he has accomplished. But in basketball, he is the ultimate.
Bob: Well, we're going to hear a little bit about that game and about a lot of other games as we talk with Coach Wooden over the next few days. A while back, you and I sat down with him in a studio in Los Angeles and just had a great opportunity to find out about the man who grew up to be "The Coach." Here is part 1 of our conversation with Coach John Wooden:
Dennis: Tell us about life in the Wooden household when you were growing up as a young lad.
John: We had a small farm, and I learned a lot, I think, of things that helped me later on. You had to work hard. Dad felt there was time for play but always after the chores and the studies were done. Dad would read to us every night from the Scriptures and poetry, and I think that created a love of poetry, which I've always had, liked to dabble in it a little bit. My dad was a wonderful person. I never heard him speak an ill word of anybody; never blamed anybody for anything; I never heard him use a word of profanity. I think that his reading to us of a night later caused all four sons to get through college, though he had no financial means to help and there were no athletic scholarships. All four sons graduated from college and all majored or minored in English, and all got advanced degrees, and I think Dad had a lot to do with that.
Dennis: Your dad had, as you've already mentioned, a profound impact on your life. In fact, I was so looking forward to this interview with you, because I've quoted you about something that you said you carried around in your pocket. Or – it, first of all, was carried around in your father's pocket, is that right? And then you started carrying it around – it was your dad's creed – and then a poem by a pastor by the name of Henry Van Dyke.
John: My father gave to me, when I graduated from high school – excuse me – from grade school, from the eighth grade, he gave me a $2 bill – one of those large $2 bills and said, "Son, as long as you keep this you'll never be broke." Then he also gave me a card, and on one side was the verse by Reverend Van Dyke that said, "Four things a man must learn to do if he would make his life more true; to think without confusion clearly; to love his fellow man sincerely; to act from honest motives purely; to trust in God and heaven securely."
And on the other side was a seven-point creed, and the seven-point creed insisted, first of all, I think it was, "Be true to yourself," and I think we know if we're true to ourselves, we'll be true to others; and the second was "Help others." There is no greater joy than a person can have than do something for someone else, especially when you do it with no thought of something in return.
Another one was "Make friendship a fine art." Work at it, don't take it for granted, work at making friends and making friendships flourish. And then was one, I think, stood out to me a great deal was, "Make me today your masterpiece," and I tried to teach from that, as time went by, to my players and my English students, to just try and do the best you can each day. Just make each day a masterpiece. It's the only thing over which you have control. You have no control over yesterday. That will never change. The only way you can affect tomorrow is today.
And then another one was to "Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible;" and then was "Build a shelter against a rainy day," and he wasn't thinking about a physical shelter, he was thinking about a more lasting shelter. When I think about that, I often think of when Socrates was unjustly imprisoned and was facing imminent death and the jailers who were mean people, they couldn't understand his serenity, and they said, "Why aren't you preparing for death?" And his statement was, "I've been preparing for death all my life by the life I've led," and when I think of building a shelter against a rainy day, I think that's what Dad had in mind.
Then the last was – the seventh was "Give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day," and I've carried that with me in one form or another since those days, yes.
Bob: Those core convictions are so bedrock with you, that's a part of how your mom and dad raised you. I think some people – we hear those things in the 21st century and some people go, "That sounds kind of old-fashioned, kind of corny," but that's so ingrained into who you are and who you've been, and you would say that's been a part of what has made you successful as a coach, right?
John: Well, I would hope so, but I know, too, if someone said, "I'm not what I ought to be and not what I want to be and not what I'm going to be, but I think those things have made me better than I would have been.
Dennis: Your dad read the Bible every day.
John: Yes, he did.
Dennis: How did you see him live out his faith in Christ every day, as a father? What are the most indelible memories that you have, as a boy, watching your dad? Because, undoubtedly, for him to have the influence he had on you as a man, his character has to resonate even today in your life.
John: Perhaps I wasn't realizing it at the time, but as I look back on my dad and the fact that he never spoke an ill word of anyone and just was a good person. You don't realize it so much of the time, and many of the things – one of the things he said was never try to be better than someone else. You have no control over that, and if you get too involved and engrossed and concerned – maybe these weren't his exact words, but things over which you have no control will adversely affect the things over which you have control.
Now, years later, I remember that. So somewhere in the hidden recesses of the mind, they stuck there, but it was things like that. Mr. Lincoln said there is nothing stronger than gentleness, and my father was gentle man – working with animals and things. I remember reading to us nights over the Scriptures, and I can still close my eyes and hear him reading "Hiawatha." I can still hear "By the shores of Gitchigoomie, by the Shining Big Sea Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis," and so on, and things of that sort.
Bob: You didn't have any TV, any radio, so in the evening reading was the primary form of entertainment, wasn't it?
John: You're correct – by a coal oil lamp or candles.
Bob: Was your dad – as you think back on his life, you've talked about this tender side of him, and yet he was still whipping you when you did the wrong thing. Was he a strict disciplinarian?
John: Well, I would say yes but not in a physical point of way. I know – oh, I didn't want to get an unkind word from my dad, you know, a strong word. I don't know, you just hated to hurt him in any way. You just had that feeling about him.
Dennis: As you followed your dad, you undoubtedly watched how he'd love your mother. Tell us about what you observed there and his commitment to her, as a woman and to his wife, over their years together.
John: Well, I think Dad's first concern was always for Mother. He was looking out for her the best he could in every way but in a gentle way, in a gentle way. I can picture them together – not at all the romantic way that you might think, but there was just something between them that was very, very special. I don't know how to describe it.
Dennis: You said of yourself in your book, "They Call Me Coach," that as you moved into your high school years, you were shy, you were reserved, especially with the opposite sex.
John: Yes, I suppose, not being exposed much – no sisters – and I'm on the farm, and I suppose that's the reason, I don't know, but I was a little shy.
Bob: But here you were, this star basketball player on the high school team. I mean, the girls, the cheerleaders, had to notice Johnny Wooden, didn't they? Did they call you Johnny back then or was it John?
John: They called me lots of things.
You'd be surprised, the more they think it was John Bob.
Bob: John Bob.
Dennis: John Bob.
John: And Nellie and I had been married for many years when her sister came out here to California one time, and she said, "Don't you think you and John have been married long enough that you should quit calling him John Bob?"
Bob: But didn't the girls start to notice you as you were draining those jump shots on the basketball teams?
Dennis: Yeah, he kind of skirted your answer there. I was watching him about that.
John: Well, I'll tell you, my freshman year, I was still living on the farm. We didn't lose the farm until after my freshman year, and then we commuted from this little town of Center, and we lived about a half a mile out of that to Martinsville, and I noticed this one little gal, and I didn't know that she had noticed me, too, but I didn't know that, and that summer she brought the brother of her closest friend, who became very dear to me, to drive up. Her brother had a car, and they drove up, and I was working in the field plowing corn with a team, and they parked in the road and motioned for me to come over, and I wouldn't go over. I just kept on.
Bob: Why wouldn't you go over? Here's this cute girl on the side of the road …
Dennis: … and you even liked her, too.
John: Oh, yeah, but I was dirty and somehow on the first day of classes, we happened to be in the same class. She said, "Why didn't you come over to see us?" I said, "Well, I was dirty and perspiring, and you would have just made fun of me." And Nellie said – I can still see her, she said, "I would never make fun of you," and I knew right then …
Dennis: … there was a spark in her eyes.
John: And this is the only girl I ever really went with.
Bob: So by your junior year in high school, did you think, "This is the girl I'll marry?"
John: I did.
Bob: And you all started going together?
John: We did.
Bob: So you waited to marry until you got to college?
John: Yes, until I graduated. I was glad to be married and graduated and got my first job, yes.
Bob: Coach, that's a long courtship – from your junior year in high school until you've graduated from college and got your first job. That must have been hard.
Dennis: But, Bob, the rest of the story is, if Nellie hadn't put her foot down …
Bob: … he might still be dragging it on today?
Dennis: Well, there is the rest of the story here, because he really had promised her that he was going to marry her upon graduation, but then the war came along.
John: Yes. Well, I had an appointment to West Point, and she said it would be six more years, and "I'm not going to wait. I'm going to a convent." So I didn't go to West Point.
Bob: She said she wouldn't wait on you?
John: That's right.
Dennis: And so what did you do?
John: Well, I finished at Purdue.
Dennis: So you were married then?
John: We were married on August 8th. It would have been 70 years just last August 8th that we would have been married. We were married on August 8, 1932.
Dennis: You were, in those days, All American three years in a row, you were named the College Player of the Year your senior year, and as I was doing this research, I was thinking – I was talking to Bob. I said, "I don't remember Coach Wooden being that tall, to be College Player of the Year. He must have been 6'3" or 6'4". On the sidelines you looked a little small around those big guys at UCLA. But you were only 5'10" in those days.
John: But, you know, the teams weren't as big then, either, as they are now, too. Our center at Purdue, Stretch Murphy, was 6'8", and he was a giant. I only had the pleasure of playing with him one year. I had the displeasure of playing against him one year when I was a sophomore in high school for the Indiana State Championship, he was the center on the opposing team, and he was good.
Bob: Did you just have what it takes as an athlete? Were you just a naturally gifted – something about the way God made you that you turned out to be a good basketball player? Or did you work really hard to be a good ball player?
John: Well, I hope I did the latter, but He provided the former. I had natural quickness, and I couldn't do much about my height, but I could do something about my condition, and I always wanted to be in the best possible condition and hoped that would be better than others, hoped others wouldn't work as hard at it as I did do that, and I think I carried that throughout, and I think that helped. And I think it probably come from my earlier grade school days on the farm of working hard, and I like to feel that no one is going to be in better condition, then I have no control over it. I should have control over myself.
Bob: Well, we've been listening to a conversation with Coach John Wooden – actually, part 1 of a conversation that we're going to hear the remainder of over the next couple of days.
Dennis: What a sweet time, huh?
Bob: It was a great time.
Dennis: Bob, you and I just had a great time. I'd look over at you occasionally, and you'd be sitting there grinning, and I'd be grinning, and the reason is, is when we interviewed Coach, he was 91 years old. He's now at his 92nd birthday, and I'm told that he knows where 180 of his players are – his past players. He's kept in touch with them. I heard about a coach the other day whose players never go back to visit him – none of them. It's common knowledge that his players don't want to have anything to do with him, and I think about Coach Wooden and the wisdom that he passed on, and it reminds me, really, of Proverbs, chapter 4, where a father is imploring and exhorting a son to "Listen, my son, and acquire wisdom."
And I'll tell you, just hanging with the Coach for the interview we did over an hour and a half, we're not going to be able to air all of it here on the broadcast over the next couple of days, but just hanging with him, you thought, "What would it have been like to have played for a coach like that?" And then it hit me, you know, that's what our children need to be expressing about us as parents. You know, we learned, we sat under the greatest mom, the greatest dad, the greatest coach, the greatest teacher the world has ever known. Yeah, they're going to be biased, but the idea is that we, as parents, we're impacting the next generation just like Coach Wooden did.
Bob: That's right. You mentioned the entire interview going more than an hour and a half long. We've actually taken the complete interview and put it on two CDs, and I got some early copies of these CDs, and I'll tell you what I found – you can pass these out to lots of folks. You can pass them out to the high school coach at the high school where your kids go.
Dennis: Oh, let me tell you something, I've been doing this, and I've had friends doing this – any coach of any sport – Laura's volleyball coach – I gave her a copy of this, and she grabbed hold of it like it was gold, and the reason is it is gold.
Bob: It's thoughts on life from a great coach but it's also thoughts on faith and character and what really matters. You can use this as a way to begin a dialog and to open doors evangelistically with fans of the game, with coaches, with players, with friends. We have the two-CD set that features the entire – I think it's about an hour-and-45-minute-long conversation with Coach John Wooden.
It's available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY to request as many copies as you want.
Dennis: It even looks like a basketball on one side and a net on the other.
Bob: 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. You can also order online at FamilyLife.com. Ask for the two-CD set of our conversation with Coach John Wooden when you contact us, and there's a second resource we want to mention to you as well – Coach Wooden has put together a course that is designed to teach his principles of success in business, in athletics, in school. We have a videocassette where Coach lays out the Pyramid of Success that he put together, and we have the Pyramid on our website at FamilyLife.com, but we also have it on a mousepad that you can have by your computer just to review the character qualities that go into success in any endeavor. Along with the video and the mousepad, we've got a wallet card.
Dennis: Not just any wallet card.
Bob: No, it's a laminated …
Dennis: … a laminated …
Bob: … that's right, and it has some of the Coach's philosophy on it – never lie, never cheat, never steal, don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses – pretty simple stuff but profound nonetheless.
Ask for these resources when you call 1-800-FLTODAY. Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY or go online at FamilyLife.com, and you can see some of the resources there, and you can order online as well. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com.
When you do get in touch with us, someone is likely to ask if you'd like to help with a donation to FamilyLife Today, and we hope when they ask, if you are able, you'll say yes and be able to add a donation to the work of this ministry. We're a nonprofit organization, and we depend on those contributions to keep doing what we're doing. So if you can't help with a donation, you can donate online at FamilyLife.com. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY or you can write a check and mail it to us at FamilyLife Today, Box 8220, Little Rock, Arkansas. The zip code is 72221. Once again, it's FamilyLife Today at Box 8220, Little Rock, Arkansas, and our zip code is 72221.
Well, tomorrow we're going to find out how the UCLA dynasty almost never happened and how it might have been the Minnesota dynasty if it hadn't been for a snowstorm.
Dennis: Yeah, this is a great story about lost opportunity.
Bob: We'll hear that tomorrow as we continue our conversation with Coach John Wooden. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Robbie Neal [sp], and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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