“He Was Preparing Us For Life”: John Wooden (1910 October 14th)

basketball on a court

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.

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.


“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

“Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”

. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

. “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

. “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.”

. “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”

. “Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”

. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

. “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

. “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.”

. “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

. “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

Wooden was a dignified, scholarly man who spoke with the precise language of the English teacher he once was. He always carried a piece of paper with a message from his father that read:

“Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day. Pray for guidance, count and give thanks for your blessings every day.”


Abdul-Jabbar recalled that there “was no ranting and raving, no histrionics or theatrics.” He continued: “To lead the way Coach Wooden led takes a tremendous amount of faith. He was almost mystical in his approach, yet that approach only strengthened our confidence. Coach Wooden enjoyed winning, but he did not put winning above everything. He was more concerned that we became successful as human beings, that we earned our degrees, that we learned to make the right choices as adults and as parents.

“In essence,” Abdul-Jabbar concluded, “he was preparing us for life.”

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