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Basketball coaching legend John Wooden dies at 99

LOS ANGELES

John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever, has died. He was 99. The university said Mr. Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26. "We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father. We will miss him more than words can express," son Jim Wooden and daughter Nancy Muehlhausen said in a statement.

"He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family. The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."

They thanked well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers and asked for privacy.

With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Mr. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

Over 27 years, Mr. Wooden won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor — later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Mr. Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach.

"He was always the boss. He always knew what to say," former UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes said. "Even in the heyday of winning and losing, you could almost discuss anything with him. He always had that composure and wit about him. He could connect with all kind of people and situations and always be in control of himself and seemingly of the situation."

Mr. Wooden was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style.

But his legacy extended well beyond that. He was the master of the simple one- or two-sentence homily, instructive little messages best presented in his famous "Pyramid of Success," which remains must-read material, not only for fellow coaches but for anyone in a leadership position in American business.

In the pyramid, industriousness and enthusiasm were the cornerstones; faith, patience, loyalty and self-control were some of the building blocks. At the top was competitive greatness.

"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," Mr. Wooden would tell his players.

He taught the team game and had only three hard-and-fast rules — no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. Layered beneath that seeming simplicity, though, were a slew of life lessons — primers on everything from how to put on your socks correctly to how to maintain poise: "Not being thrown off stride in how you behave or what you believe because of outside events."

One of Mr. Wooden's key messages: "What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player."

"There will never be another John Wooden," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "This loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society. He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport, but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world. His enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate."

Mr. Wooden, born Oct. 14, 1910, near Martinsville, Ind., began his career as a teacher during the Great Depression and was still teaching others long past retirement. Up until about two years ago, he remained a fixture at UCLA games played on a court named after him and his late wife, Nell, and celebrated his 99th birthday with a book he co-authored on how to live life and raise children.

Asked in a 2008 interview the secret to his long life, Mr. Wooden replied: "Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don't let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low."

Asked what he would like God to say when he arrived at the pearly gates, Mr. Wooden replied, "Well done."

Even with his staggering accomplishments, he remained humble and gracious. He said he tried to live by advice from his father: "Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books — especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day."

While he lived his father's words, many more lived his. Those lucky enough to play for him got it first hand, but there was no shortage of Wooden sayings making the rounds far away from the basketball court.

"Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow," was one.

"Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you," was another.

Wooden's career by the numbers

19 Pac-8 conference championships

12 Final Fours

10 National titles

16 NCAA Tournament appearances

Fast facts

Wooden awards

1930-32: All-America selection at Purdue

1932: College basketball player of the year

1960: Inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a player

Named NCAA coach of the year: 1964-67, 1968-69, 1969-70, 1971-72, 1972-73

1972: Inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. First person to be inducted as a player then as a coach.

Basketball coaching legend John Wooden dies at 99 06/05/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 5, 2010 1:50am]

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