The Steps to Success
Paul Pierce and others walk the red carpet.
Forget about Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The Sunset Strip in Hollywood is overrated. If you were in the Los Angeles area this past weekend, in search of a star sighting, HAX was the place to be.
That’s right, for one night, HAX, the Hangar Athletic Xchange in Hawthorne, CA transformed from a state of the art 70,000 square foot sports complex into a formal ballroom, fully equipped with everything needed to successfully host the inaugural John Wooden Pyramid of Success Awards, presented by McDonald’s.
Camera crews, reporters and the paparazzi jostled and fought for position along the flowing red carpet adjacent to the entrance as celebrities and high-profile professional athletes filed in to the facility for a fundraising dinner, where the proceeds went to helping inner-city kids with academic and athletic scholarships.
Laila Ali created quite the buzz once she arrived. A media darling and captivating presence, the one-time professional boxer turned Dancing with the Stars standout had no trouble with being in the spotlight.
NBA players, past and present, but none bigger than Paul Pierce, arrived to the star-studded event right around the same time.
Current ESPN analyst and former UCLA coach Steve Lavin was more than happy fielding the numerous questions directed toward him.
“Basketball is the common thread, the common love at an event like this. And then, when you throw John Wooden’s name into the mix, you know that there’s going to be a great turnout” Lavin said. “I mean, look at this place. The ambiance, it’s stunning, so much more than I expected. This is about as classy as it gets.
“What a truly special event. An event like this stands for all the right reasons. An event like this galvanizes the basketball community. Anything that John Wooden is associated with, that he signs his name on, you just know that there will be a legion of followers, a legion of believers that will get behind the cause.”
Wooden, unfortunately, was unable to attend the festivities due to illness. He did, however, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
And there were plenty of other highlights.
Host and sportscaster Steve Hartman kept things moving right along throughout the evening. From the meet-and-greet, to the appetizer and cocktail hour, to the lavish dinner and reception that followed, the gala went off without a hitch.
Comedian Chris Spencer was the emcee for the live auction, where a signed basketball by John Wooden commanded the attention of most of the 250-plus V.I.P. guests in attendance.
Jim Skinner, CEO for McDonald’s, received the Skill Award and wasn’t shy when the time came to talk about the McDonald‘s All-American game.
“We started, we created this thing, the all-american game back in 1977, and at the time, we where smart enough to make John Wooden an advisory chairman,” he said. “Anybody who’s anybody in the sport has played in our all-star game.”
Indeed, the best of the best have played in the game sponsored by the Golden Arches. Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are among the many players that have participated over the years.
Dick Vitale, unable to attend due to prior commitments, was honored with the Industrious Award for his college and pro coaching efforts and his work with ESPN.
Ali took home the Competitive Greatness Award.
“To be a part of an event like this is special,” she said. “The red carpet, the beautiful table settings, the food, the music, all the stars, the whole atmosphere is incredible.
“When I was told that I was going to receive an award, I was honored. You always hope that you’ve done enough over the course of a career to earn the respect of those within the sports community. I’m speechless, I’m flattered. It feels really good to take a step back, to reflect and see that all that hard work paid off.
“I’m familiar; I’m aware of the tools John Wooden uses in his Pyramid of Success and have applied some of them to my life. It’s made me want to help, inspire, motivate the youth, help them be the best they can be. Teach them they can do whatever they want in life. This event isn’t just about awards. It’s about the cause. We’re raising funds for a good cause. That’s what’s most important about something like this.”
As for Pierce, the bright lights and big city didn’t bother him. Not in the least.
“The Truth” is one of Los Angeles’ own. He grew up in the area, attending Inglewood High, which is about a 10 minutes away from HAX, right down Hawthorne Blvd.
Pierce was acknowledged with the Competitive Greatness Award, a fitting honor given his tremendous success with the Boston Celtics in recent years.
“It feels good to be home, to see the family, to see some old friends,” he said. “This is where it all started for me, way back in the day. This is where I’m from.”
“When I was approached by the great John Wooden and his people about this event, I was shocked but very honored. How could you not be? There was no way that I was going to miss something special like this. It was a no-brainer for me. This is a great cause, a great way to give back to the community, a great way to inspire the youth in this country.”
Interestingly enough, Pierce had a thought provoking answer to one of the more burning questions of the evening: Who’s going to be in the finals this year?
“I got the Red Sox versus the Dodgers,” he said.
No Paul, the NBA Finals?
“The Celtics, of course. In the finals, we’ll be going up against…” Pierce said just before his publicist and bodyguard pulled him away from the media frenzy hovering around the red carpet and led him inside to rub elbows with the rest of esteemed guests.
“Have to get back to you on that one,” he said as he walked inside. “There’s a lot of people that I want to see and talk to. It’s big time in there. Sorry, man.”
On this night, trendy Southern California hotspots such as Chateau Marmont, The Ivy and Koi took a backseat to HAX as the place to be. Go figure.