Book Review: Wooden: Basketball and Beyond
UCLA provides a beautiful look back at college hoops’ greatest coach ever.
by Yaron Weitzman/ @YaronWeitzman
Every basketball fan knows that John Wooden is the greatest college basketball coach of all-time. His 12 national championships—with seven of them coming consecutively—and 88-game winning make that a fact. But those accolades are not what made Wooden the legend that he is, and are not the reason that he receives the universal respect and reverence that he does.
The sports world has seen many great coaches come and go. Most of them, however, haven’t been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, haven’t had conversations with Nobel Peace Prize winning political scientists, and haven’t had their teachings and philosophies worshipped in the non-sports world. (To such an extent that sitcoms are able to work in jokes referring to Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Although I’m pretty sure Wooden never taught his players to avoid skim milk.) John Wooden was a fascinating man. The question, however, is how did he develop into that man? How was the coach of the UCLA Bruins able to become an American legend without ever leaving sidelines of Pauley Pavilion?
This is the question that Wooden: Basketball and Beyond: The Official UCLA Retrospective, which was set to be UCLA’s 100th birthday present for Wooden before he died at in June 2010 at the age of 99, sets out to answer. The book, which is collection of rare photographs—with accompanying text written by veteran Sports Illustrated writer Richard Hoffer along with as personal reflections from former Bruins players, coaches and broadcasters—provides an insightful window into the career and success of Wooden. Through both pictures and stories, Wooden: Basketball and Beyond, shows readers how Wooden was able to become the great coach, teacher and overall citizen that we all recognize him as today. How was it that a devout Christian and navy lieutenant could form a lifelong bond with two of the most politically and socially controversial basketball superstars this country has ever seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton? What basketball tactics did Wooden employ (Did you know that his teams were the first to run fast breaks?) that enabled him to dominate the sport in a way that few, if any have? What was it about Wooden that, unlike most college coaches, made him a man deserving of the title “teacher” as opposed to coach? Wooden: Basketball and Beyond provides answers to all these questions.
Like Wooden, however, Wooden: Basketball and Beyond contains its fair share of humorous anecdotes that you would hope to find in a retrospective. The story of how a snowstorm led Wooden to UCLA and Bill Walton’s list of things that his coach use to say to him (“You didn’t really send that letter to Richard Nixon demanding his resignation on my stationary, did you?”) are both hilarious and fascinating.
Stories like these, combined with its ability to answer all of our questions about Wooden through basic photographs and short, to the point reflections are what makes Wooden: Basketball and Beyond so perfect. A detailed book describing how and why Wooden was able to become the man he was could easily go be hundreds of pages. But it also wouldn’t be the right way to honor a man who would hand his team a list of “suggestions”—which can be seen in Hoffer’s book—with simple phrases like “Be a team player always,” and “Never waste time.” Part of the beauty of Wooden was his simplicity. The same can be said for Wooden: Basketball and Beyond.
Wooden: Basketball and Beyond: The Official UCLA Retrospective is in stores November 1.