You know, John Wooden probably did more to influence people, to make people better human beings, to be more successful people, than just about any coach in history. He had a long life, and he affected people throughout his entire life. I think the thing I learned from John Wooden, particularly as a young man, is how to be a better teammate.
When I was about 8 to 14 years old was when Coach had his incredible run at UCLA, when he won all of those championships. I remember watching the great game where they lost to Houston from the Astrodome—it was probably one of the first sports events that happened in our country that kind of transcended the fact it was just a basketball game. But the thing I learned from him was how to be a teammate.
I wanted to be a basketball player. I didn’t wind up with the height or anything to do it, but when I was 10 years old, I thought I was going to be the greatest point guard ever, and I grew up in a community that loved basketball. And I remember just watching how Wooden recruited five-star McDonald All Americans like Lewis Alcindor, who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from Power High School in New York, who was the greatest high school basketball player of all time. He took all of those big-ego players, McDonald’s All Americans, and he was able to mesh them into a great team. You know, a lot of times you get a bunch of superstars together and they’re superstars, but they’re not a great team.
He always preached teamwork. Doing it right the first time. Giving your efforts time to compound, working hard every day, doing your job, being your part of the equation, being the best you can be. I remember hearing the interviews with him, watching how his teams always played. His teams played like a machine with all the parts fitting together, and then as I got older I began to understand the impact that he had on those people’s lives.
So John Wooden was a man of impact. But for me, the thing I learned was how to be a better teammate.
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