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John Wooden's 'Ultimate Championship'

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Today marks the one year anniversary of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's death. Considered the greatest coach of all-time in team sports, Coach Wooden was much more than a leader of young men. He stood for something far more important: values, decency, and a tremendous love for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Former UCLA player Andre McCarter, who played on Coach Wooden's last championship team in 1975, pays tribute to his mentor and lifelong friend.

I stood next to my coach in 1975, after announcing earlier to my teammates and anyone who would listen we would win Coach John Wooden’s last game against Kentucky. I played every minute of the championship game. I stood next to Coach Wooden with the net around his neck that net represented his tenth and last NCAA national championship title and game of his career, the crowd all around us were celebrating this monumental victory. I looked down into my Coach’s eyes and said “Coach have a good life!” I now know what I said was indeed prophetic.

Coach Wooden did have a great life, a winning life, a victorious life. Though he suffered the ups, downs, struggles and tragedies in the seasons of living, Coach Wooden persevered. Through it all his faith in God, the love of Jesus, the foundational love of his parents, wife, family and the battles with competitors and adversaries encouraged, inspired and helped him to overcome and be victorious and win at life.

Coach Wooden’s victories in life were divinely guided and inspired by God:

  • Mr. Wooden, Johnny’s dad gave him “Seven Things To Do” as a young boy. It set in the young boy’s heart that God was important to his dad and his dad wanted God to be important to his son and it became so. Johnny believes.
  • Johnny’s mom made his first basketball for him on the family farm by sewing together rags together so he could play basketball
  • The first girl he kissed was his first girlfriend and his last. The love affair lasted for 53 years.
  • At Purdue he was a true student-athlete athlete of his day. He was excellent at both academics and basketball.
  • John Wooden barnstormed as a pro player coming up against some of the best white and black players of the day. He loved the way the famous and tough New York Reins basketball teams played.  Fast-break basketball with great passing and team play that made them fore runners of the game of basketball and influenced Coach Wooden’s perspective of the game.  
  • He married Nellie the love of his life and they built a family that would be with him and continued to grow throughout his life.
  • He served in the Navy as a Lieutenant and came home safe.
  • He taught kids English in the classroom and taught them how to play basketball and his real love baseball.
  • He developed a “Pyramid of Success” to give every student and/or athlete he taught as well as every human being a road map of what he believed about true success.
  • He took a stand for one of his African-American players against racism helping to open the door for the right of African-American players to play college basketball at any university.
  • Coach Wooden had his “Dream Job” in mind the University of Minnesota, but God had other plans. What a storm Coach Wooden experienced it was so powerful it prevented Minnesota from getting through on the telephone while the call from UCLA was able to get through. Wow, and Coach kept his word with the school he committed to once the dream school called minutes later. Divine Intervention!
  • As coach of UCLA he coached and taught his players in practice with the same heart felt dedication to the fundamentals, team play and work ethic of a champion from 1948 to 1975. In 1964 he figured out what he needed to figure out and the rest is history.
  • His record in NCAA men’s college basketball is unprecedented.
  • Coach Wooden was selected by his peers, sportswriters, and others as the greatest coach of any sport of All-Time! Enough said!
  • My college coach John Robert Wooden was an American Icon, a true competitor, a legend, a man of honor, high character, trustworthy, a man of God.

When I received the confirmed news that Coach had passed on I was sad: I was asked for a statement, I wrote: “My Coach, John Robert Wooden, the example of a man who lived really loving the Lord, what an honor with love for me to have shared with him moments in time. My friend, My Coach who taught me the intricate details of a champion and helped shape my life! He trusted me with the Basketball and he trusted me to live the best life. The King of kings has welcomed the Coach of coaches!”

While looking at the news that Thursday evening June 3, 2010, I saw the current UCLA students in front of the UCLA Medical Center clapping in celebration of Coach my spirit leaped for joy. The news showed footage of UCLA students running down the streets from the UCLA campus to the UCLA Medical Center. They stood across from the Medical Center clapping at Coach Wooden’s graduation out of time into eternity. I will never forget that scene. Coach Wooden had reached their young hearts, they never saw him in his prime as a coach, they only knew him in the now as a friendly grandfather of honor who smiled and talked to them at home games. I thought what another victory and tribute to Coach.
During the beginning of the 1972-73 college basketball season I made a decision to sit out (“Red Shirt”) for this season. Though I knew I was good enough to play I did not fully understand what and why the coach wanted me to change my game. I was unstoppable. When I had the basketball, I was unstoppable. I sat myself down for  a year practicing hard each day, I STUDIED THE COACH and  read any information he put in writing.

He left so many great maxims, sayings and principles to use in life.  What is not broadly acknowledged is that the core of Coach Wooden’s sayings is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Coach did not push his beliefs on his players, his “Boys” or others that came in his presence. His manner was to draw you in to recognize Jesus as his source. You cannot separate Coach Wooden the competitor, coach-teacher, wise one, great man, and man of God. If you really appreciate and admire Coach Wooden you have to respect all that made him be the one we love.

Coach Wooden loved people, he hoped and prayed that all with whom he had some relationship, met briefly, admired his accomplishments and the way he lived his life would come to the same conclusion that inspired him to live such a long, healthy and prosperous life. Jesus as their Lord and Savior was the cry of his heart. In his latter years together we would pray for what was on his heart.

I believe it has been hard for coaches who wanted to follow his coaching genius and formula on the basketball court because everything he did emanated from the Rock of his life. Many have tried but without Him as their guide Coach’s way seems shrouded in mystery, but now for me it is clear, because now I can see and for those who keep pursuing and give Jesus their life the way is easy and it is not mysterious.

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Andre McCarter is a contributing writer for