Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden, RIP

John Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever. No one else came close. I remember him well. His era, the 1960's, was a turbulent one in America, especially the cultural circles where he made his mark: college, black athletes, youth, and all that it implied. Wooden seemed like an island of tranquility in a turbulent sea. I do not know what Wooden's political views were and it really does not matter. He was a symbol of wisdom, stability, and patience. In all the years I watched him coach, from Walt Hazzard to Lew Alcindor to Sydney Wicks to Bill Walton, I cannot remember ever seeing him raise his voice to a player or referee. His expression was the same in 1968 when Elvin Hayes slayed his Goliath like team in the Astrodome as when, a few months later, Alcindor proved that it was all a fluke. I guess you could call him the anti Bobby Knight. I cannot imagine Wooden signing a deal with Nike or Men's Wearhouse. Perhaps his UCLA teams complemented the dynastic nature of the era when it was common for one team to dominate a sport, be it the Canadiens, Celtics, Yankees, or, to a lesser extent, Green Bay. And perhaps his old school approach to basketball would never make in today's hyped up sports world. But here is the real mark of the man: the 1960's and early 70's were characterized as one of rebellion. Young people, at least the affluent and well educated ones, had contempt for people like Wooden and the values they reflected. But Wooden never changed his style to fit the perceived fashion of the times. His black players may have sported wild Afros and changed their names while others advocated a back to nature enviro/chic radicalism, but it never affected Wooden. More important, as different as he was from the players he coached, you never heard them utter a negative word about him. John Wooden was a class act. RIP.

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