He may be the greatest college coach who ever lived. Yet his friends, family, players, and millions of fans remember him more for his goodness than his greatness.
He lived to be 99. He coached basketball for 27 years at UCLA, winning 10 National Championships, a record that remains unequaled. He is the only person ever to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Humble and gracious, he kept track of each of his players long after they had gone on to other things, and most of them could quote his life philosophy by heart:
“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player,” was one of his messages.
“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow,” was another.
“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you,” was yet another.
After 53 years of marriage, his wife Nell—the love of his life—died of cancer. For the next 25 years the old coach sat down on the 21st of every month and wrote her a love letter, placing it in one of her favorite places with his previous letters.
At age 97, in his last public interview, a member of the audience asked him what he would like God to say to him when he stood at heaven’s gate. Coach John Wooden replied simply, “Well done.”
Louisiana poet William Arthur Ward could have been thinking of Coach Wooden when he wrote: “Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life, not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving, not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness, not by our seeming greatness.”