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John Wooden, Revered as UCLA Coach and Mentor, Dead at 99

John Wooden
John Wooden watches UCLA Bruins play California Golden Bears Jan. 29. 2009. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images.

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- John Wooden, revered as a coach and a mentor who built UCLA’s basketball program into one of America’s greatest sports dynasties by stressing the game’s fundamentals on the court and life’s values off it, died at the age of 99.

Wooden died last night, nine days after being admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. UCLA said a public memorial will be scheduled, with a reception for former players and coaches.

Wooden coached UCLA to 10 National Collegiate Athletic Association championships from 1964-75, including seven straight. During that time, the Bruins won a record 88 consecutive games overall and 38 straight in the NCAA tournament.

“Coach Wooden’s legacy transcends athletics, what he did was produce leaders,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement released by the school. “Through his work and his life, he imparted his phenomenal understanding of leadership and his unwavering sense of integrity to so many people.”

Nicknamed “The Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden had a 620-147 record in 27 years at UCLA, which is located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. While he coached such players as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Sidney Wicks, Marques Johnson and Keith Wilkes, he instilled the team concept over individualism.

“Place the team above yourself always,” Wooden once said.

Wooden was a three-time All-American as a player at Purdue University and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961. When enshrined as a coach in 1973, he was the first person honored as both a player and a coach. Lenny Wilkens and Bill Sharman since have followed as player and coach.

Stressed Fundamentals

Wooden was known for teaching fundamentals, teamwork and discipline. His “Pyramid of Success” promoted such values as industriousness, loyalty and confidence and provided an insight into the principles that led to his success on and off the court.

“John Wooden was hired at UCLA to coach basketball, but what he really taught during his 27 years in Westwood was life,” Walton said in UCLA Magazine in 2000.

Wooden wrote numerous books that reflected on his life on and off the basketball court, focusing on subjects such as leadership, mentoring and how to create a winning organization.

Known for his skill as a motivational speaker, the words “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable,” appear on the opening screen of Wooden’s website.

In a video posted on the site, Wooden said that he did not miss coaching in games, rather only practices.

‘Never Stressed Winning’

“I never stressed winning,” he said. “I wanted the score to be a by-product of the preparation.”

Wooden said in an interview at his apartment last year that he was approached several times about being part of a business. He declined, saying he “didn’t like the idea of having that many people’s lives in my hands.”

John Robert Wooden was born Oct. 14, 1910, in Martinsville, Indiana. He was named to the Indiana All-State team three times at Martinsville High School and helped the team to the state championship in 1927 and the runner-up spot in 1926 and 1928.

At Purdue, he was a three-time All-American. He was the national player of the year as a senior in 1932, when the Boilermakers won the national championship.

Upon graduating from Purdue, Wooden began his career as a high school basketball coach in Kentucky and Indiana, compiling a 218-42 record in 11 seasons.

U.S. Navy Service

After three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he became the athletic director and basketball and baseball coach at Indiana State Teachers College, now Indiana State University. He had a 47-14 record in two seasons before being hired at UCLA in 1948.

Wooden took the Bruins to the NCAA tournament in his second season and to the Final Four for the first time in 1962. Two years later, the dynasty began.

Led by Goodrich and Walt Hazard, the Bruins went 30-0 and won their first national title. They added a second title the following season, then began a run of seven straight with the 1967 arrival of Lew Alcindor, as Abdul-Jabbar was known then.

In 1968, UCLA met Houston in what was billed as college basketball’s “Game of the Century.” The contest drew a record crowd of 52,693 to the Houston Astrodome and a national television audience.

Top-ranked UCLA took a 47-game winning streak into the game; second-ranked Houston had won 48 straight home games. Houston won 71-69 as All-American Elvin Hayes scored 39 points.

Rematch With Houston

The two teams met in the Final Four later that season and UCLA rolled to a 101-69 win. The Bruins would win their fourth national title the next day.

The arrival of Walton for the 1971-72 season signaled the start of another UCLA powerhouse as the Bruins posted back-to-back 30-0 seasons and won two more titles.

The winning streak stretched to 88 games, into the 1973-74 season, before top-ranked UCLA lost at No. 2 Notre Dame, 71-70. As they had done six years earlier against Houston, the Bruins avenged the loss, beating the then-No. 1 Fighting Irish by 19 points a week later in Los Angeles.

UCLA’s title run came to an end that season with an 80-77 double-overtime loss in the semifinals to eventual national champ North Carolina State.

The Bruins returned to the Final Four the next season. Following a 75-74 semifinal win over Louisville, Wooden announced he would retire after the title game. Led by Richard Washington and Dave Meyers, UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 to give Wooden his 10th title in 12 years.

Presence at UCLA

After retiring, Wooden was still visible at UCLA games with a seat near the court at Pauley Pavilion. On Aug. 4, 2003, UCLA named the pavilion’s basketball floor in honor of Wooden and his wife of 53 years, Nell, who died in 1985.

In addition, the John R. Wooden Award is presented annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club to the top player in college basketball, while the John Wooden Classic matches four of the top teams each year in a doubleheader.

Wooden, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, said in the 2009 interview that “there has to be leadership” in any activity -- whether it be business, sports or family -- for it to succeed.

“You have to get people to work together, to acknowledge each other, to take an interest in them and in their world,” he said. “I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.”

Wooden is survived by a son, James, of Orange County, California; a daughter, Nancy Wooden, of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley; three grandsons and four granddaughters, and 13 great-grandchildren.

Related News and Information: For John Wooden’s official website, click

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at

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