LOS ANGELES (AP) - John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly
Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all
of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever,
has died. He was 99.
The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causes
at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been
hospitalized since May 26.
Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement shortly
after their father died, saying, "He has been, and always will be,
the guiding light for our family.
"The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be
forgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has
gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and
Just as he was loved by his players, who hurried to the hospital
to say their goodbyes.
Jamaal Wilkes said he recognized what he called "that little
glint" in Wooden's pale blue eyes.
During his second visit Wednesday night, Wilkes asked Wooden if
he recognized him.
"His glasses fogged up and he had to clean his glasses,"
Wilkes said. "He looked at me and said, 'I remember you, now go
Current UCLA coach Ben Howland was among Wooden's final
"I just enjoyed him and the twinkle in his eye," he said,
noting Wooden told a few jokes from his hospital bed. "I'm just
the steward of this program. It's always going to be his program."
With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led
the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak
of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during
one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest
players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor - later known as
"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because
he was a complex man. But he taught in a very simple way. He just
used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any
situation," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released through
"He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than a
coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he
was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life
that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."
Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the Basketball
Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
He was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be
in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style not
well-known on the West Coast at the time.
But his legacy extended well beyond that.
He was the master of the simple one- or two-sentence homily,
instructive little messages best presented in his famous "Pyramid
of Success," which remains must-read material, not only for fellow
coaches but for anyone in a leadership position in American
He taught the team game and had only three hard-and-fast rules -
no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. Layered
beneath that seeming simplicity, though, were a slew of life
lessons - primers on everything from how to put on your socks
correctly to how to maintain poise: "Not being thrown off stride
in how you behave or what you believe because of outside events."
"What you are as a person is far more important that what you
are as a basketball player," was one of Wooden's key messages.
Jim Harrick was the only coach in the post-Wooden era at UCLA to
win a national championship. When the Bruins reached the 1995 Final
Four, Harrick repeatedly urged Wooden to attend. He had stopped
going after his wife died 10 years earlier.
"He said he wasn't going. You don't know how stubborn he was,"
Harrick said by phone from Orange County, Calif. "Finally, he did
come, and it was a tremendous thrill. He snuck in and right before
the game was over he snuck out. He never wanted to take away any of
Wooden regularly attended the Bruins' home games up until a
couple years ago, taking his usual seat a few rows behind their
bench at Pauley Pavilion.
"He had as little ego as anybody I've ever known. He would
never give advice, but he would always give opinions," Harrick
said. "I happened to be the coach during the time that went from
the short, short pants to what he called the bloomers. He thought
that was the worst thing that ever happened to basketball."
Wooden began his career as a teacher during the Great Depression
and was still teaching others long past retirement. Up until about
two years ago, he remained a fixture at UCLA games played on a
court named after him and his late wife, Nell, and celebrated his
99th birthday with a book he co-authored on how to live life and
Even with his staggering accomplishments, he remained humble and
gracious. He said he tried to live by advice from his father: "Be
true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make
friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books - especially
the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for
your blessings and pray for guidance every day."
While he lived his father's words, many more lived his. Those
lucky enough to play for him got it first hand, but there was no
shortage of Wooden sayings making the rounds far away from the
"Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to
die tomorrow," was one.
"Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on
you," was another.
Born Oct. 14, 1910, near Martinsville, Ind., on a farm that
didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, Wooden's life revolved
around sports from the time his father built a baseball diamond
among his wheat, corn and alfalfa. Baseball was his favorite sport,
but there was also a basketball hoop nailed in a hayloft. Wooden
played there countless hours with his brother, Maurice, using any
kind of ball they could find.
He led Martinsville High School to the Indiana state basketball
championship in 1927 before heading to Purdue, where he was
All-America from 1930-32. The Boilermakers were national champions
his senior season, and Wooden, nicknamed "the Indiana Rubber Man"
for his dives on the hardcourt, was college basketball's player of
But it wasn't until he headed west to Southern California that
Wooden guided the Bruins to seven consecutive titles from 1967
through 1973 and a record 88-game winning streak in the early
1970s. From the time of his first title following the 1963-64
season through the 10th in 1974-75, Wooden's Bruins were 330-19,
including four 30-0 seasons.
"My reaction is sadness yet at this point we have to celebrate
maybe the most important guy in the history of the game,"
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun told the AP. "There has been no
greater influence on college basketball not just about the game but
"He gave so much to basketball and education. In my opinion if
he's not as important as Dr. Naismith, he's right next to him."
The bespectacled former high school teacher ended up at UCLA
almost by accident. Wooden was awaiting a call from the University
of Minnesota for its head coaching job and thought he had been
passed over when it didn't come. In the meantime, UCLA called, and
he accepted the job in Los Angeles.
Minnesota officials called later that night, saying they
couldn't get through earlier because of a snowstorm, and offered
him the job. Though Wooden wanted it more than the UCLA job, he
told them he already had given UCLA his word and could not break
The Bruins were winners right away after Wooden took over as
coach at UCLA's campus in Westwood in 1949.
Still, it would be 16 seasons before Wooden won his first NCAA
championship with a team featuring Walt Hazzard that went 30-0 in
1964. After that, they began arriving in bunches, with top players
such as Alcindor, Walton, Wilkes, Lucius Allen, Gail Goodrich,
Marques Johnson, Michael Warren and Sidney Wicks coming to
Each of Wooden's players would learn at the first practice how
to properly put on socks and sneakers. Each would learn to keep his
hair short and face clean-shaven, even though the fashions of the
1960s and '70s dictated otherwise.
And each would learn Wooden's "pyramid of success," a chart he
used to both inspire players and sum up his personal code for life.
Industriousness and enthusiasm were its cornerstones; faith,
patience, loyalty and self-control were some of the building
blocks. At the top of the pyramid was competitive greatness.
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation,
because your character is what you really are, while your
reputation is merely what others think you are," Wooden would tell
Wooden never had to worry about his reputation. He didn't drink
or swear or carouse with other coaches on the road, though he did
have a penchant for berating referees.
"Dadburn it, you saw him double-dribble down there!" went a
typical Wooden complaint to an official. "Goodness gracious sakes
Wooden would coach 27 years at UCLA, finishing with a record of
620-147. He won 47 NCAA tournament games. His overall mark as a
college coach was 664-162, an .804 winning percentage.
"Many have called Coach Wooden the 'gold standard' of coaches.
I believe he was the 'gold standard' of people and carried himself
with uncommon grace, dignity and humility," Duke coach Mike
Krzyzewski said. "Coach Wooden's name is synonymous with
excellence, and deservedly so. He was one of the great leaders - in
any profession - of his generation."
Wooden's legacy as a coach will always be framed by two streaks
- the seven straight national titles UCLA won beginning in 1967 and
the 88-game winning streak that came to an end Jan. 19, 1974, when
Notre Dame beat the Bruins 71-70.
After the loss, Wooden refused to allow his players to talk to
"Only winners talk," he said. A week later, UCLA beat the
Irish at home by 19 points.
A little more than a year later, Wooden surprisingly announced
his retirement after a 75-74 NCAA semifinal victory over
Louisville. He then went out and coached the Bruins for the last
time, winning his 10th national title with a 92-85 win over
Wooden disliked the Wizard of Westwood nickname, preferring to
be called coach.
"I'm no wizard, and I don't like being thought of in that light
at all," he said in a 2006 interview with the UCLA History
Project. "I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician or
something, doing something on the sly or something, and I don't
want to be thought of in that way."
The road to coaching greatness began after Wooden graduated with
honors from Purdue and married Nell Riley, his high school
In a 2008 public appearance with Los Angeles Dodgers announcer
Vin Scully, in which the men were interviewed in front of an
audience, Wooden said he still wrote his late wife - the only girl
he ever dated - a letter on the 21st of each month. "She's still
there to me," he said. "I talk to her every day."
He coached two years at Dayton (Ky.) High School, and his 6-11
losing record the first season was the only one in his 40-year
He spent the next nine years coaching basketball, baseball and
tennis at South Bend (Ind.) Central High School, where he also
Wooden served in the Navy as a physical education instructor
during World War II, and continued teaching when he became the
basketball coach at Indiana State Teachers College, where he went
47-17 in two seasons.
In his first year at Indiana State, Wooden's team won the
Indiana Collegiate Conference title and received an invitation to
the NAIB tournament in Kansas City. Wooden, who had a black player
on his team, refused the invitation because the NAIB had a policy
banning African Americans. The rule was changed the next year, and
It was then that UCLA called, though Wooden didn't take the job
to get rich. He never made more than $35,000 in a season, and early
in his career he worked two jobs to make ends meet.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin followed a similar career path as
"Even though we anticipated this day, the finality still
strikes with a force equal to a ton of bricks," Lavin said.
"There was the common affinity we shared for Purdue and UCLA, and
that forged a unique bond. I turned to him for perspective at every
critical juncture over the past 20 years. Ninety-nine years of
goodness, and now he's back with Nell."
Nell, Wooden's wife of 53 years, died of cancer in 1985. Besides
his son and daughter, Wooden is survived by three grandsons, four
granddaughters and 13 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private. A public memorial will be held
later, with a reception for former players and coaches.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.),