From True/Slant on June 5, 2010:
Remembering John Wooden.
Sports fans love to make lists. Top 10 best World Series Match Ups, Top 10 worst basketball teams, Top 5 Best NFL Quarterbacks, and on and on and on. I myself love to do it. There are multiple Top 10 lists at Fan Overboard.
But the thing about making a list of the best coaches, in any sport, is that everybody agrees on the number 1 spot. The argument usually goes,
“Okay, best coaches,” I say.
“All-time?” says my buddy.
“Yes. All-time. Any sport.”
“College and pro?”
“Yes. Any sport, both college and pro,” I clarify.
“Right, so the number one spot is John Wooden. Who do you list as two?”
And we move on there, arguing about spots 2 through 10, because there is no argument, no sports fan living or dead, professional writer or barstool expert who would argue Wooden’s place at the top. There’s John Wooden. And then there’s everybody else.
Here are just a few highlights of his incomparable career:
Beginning in the 1971 season and ending in 1974, UCLA won 88 straight games. It is an NCAA record that may stand forever.
Wooden’s UCLA teams went 30-0 in a season four times.
They won 19 PAC-10 conference championships.
Wooden Bruins teams won 10 NCAA titles in his last dozen seasons.
They won seven straight national championships (from 1967-73.)
For those who knew him best, he will be missed — losing a friend like Wooden must be an awful loss.
I always felt like Wooden would live forever, that the cameras would pan the stands at a UCLA basketball game in 2020 or 2030 and there he would be, faithfully watching over the program. Though he will not be courtside, Wooden will be remembered forever. He will be remembered for his winning records and his championships, of course. But he will mostly be remembered for his spirit, his view of the game that extended so much further than a basketball gym. He instilled beliefs into his players that turned boys into men, and turned those men into a team. We would all be a little better off to remember the foundation of Wooden’s philosophy – to focus on doing your very best, giving your very best to any endeavor you undertake.