The Wizard of Westwood

I vividly remember watching the 1968 epic college basketball game…the first college basketball game to be televised nationally for those that remember…featuring the Houston Cougars against the UCLA Bruins from the new Astrodome in Houston, TX.  The Astrodome was an incredible thing to contemplate during the “Race to the Moon” times of the late ’60’s.  Living, as I was then, in Des Moines, Iowa, the largest building I had ever seen was Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium which hosted the girl’s state basketball tournament.

Seeing this spectacle on a small, black & white television with the ‘ole “rabbit ears”, and a screen that was probably about 12″, was incredible.  A color television which could show the beautiful gold and baby blue Bruin uniforms wouldn’t find it’s way to our house until many years (and a move to Chicago) later.  However, to be able to see Lew Alcindor, Elvin Hayes, and such a large building with no pillars in the way was a dream for a young sports junkie growing up in the heartland.

John Wooden, the coach of those mighty Bruins, was already known to be an incredible basketball coach.  I read sports pages voraciously back then.  There were no famous teams in Iowa so I followed famous teams in newspapers.  Later that spring, the Drake University Bulldogs would change that by achieving what Butler did this year, a trip to the Final Four.  Their players umpired our Little League in summers to make money, so that was quite a year.

Today, like many newspapers, John Wooden is gone.  He left behind a legacy of class, under-use of adjectives, and a belief in the student-athlete.  His pyramid of success was something I had on my wall in my teens.

The Wooden Pyramid of Success

I’ve rarely come close to living the John Wooden success pyramid.  His life and career has been a subject of a couple of books I’ve read as a young man and enjoyed immensely.  As I turn 50, about half his age, it’s still strange to me to hear present day coaches compared to a coach I admired as a young boy.  It’s a sure sign that my experiences are now the “history” against which today’s performers are compared.  That’s strange, because it was the Babe Ruths and Casey Stengels to which my “present day” performers were compared.  I always thought mine were better, because I experienced them.

I don’t feel the same way about comparing today’s coaches to Coach Wooden.  He really was different, an amazing success, and someone who a young boy saw as bigger than life through a black & white fuzzy picture one night in Des Moines, Iowa.  I often read the newspaper online, because I no longer subscribe because my kids get all their news online.  My TV reception comes through a satellite dish attached to my house, and via my high definition big screen TV.  They are contemplating tearing down the Astrodome in Houston.  John Wooden, a boy who grew up on a farm, said of the Astrodome when he saw it, “it sure could hold a lot of hay”.  Maybe this is why a kid growing up in Iowa is sad today that he is no longer around.

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