Monday, June 7, 2010

John Wooden

99 years on the planet.  10 National Championships.  Hundreds of young men who put on their socks just the way he taught them.  ESPN is maudlin as sportscasters wipe tears from their eyes.  John Wooden died on Friday night.

Last winter I wrote about his influence on my life:
Watching John Wooden at his eponymous basketball tournament reminded me of what a fine man he is. One of the current Bruins looked straight into the camera and said "When Coach Wooden is around you stand up straighter and you're always acting the way you know he would expect you to act." 19 years old and he'd been in the presence of greatness and he knew it and he wanted to live up to it. That is a role model.
So when Coach Wooden quoted Abraham Lincoln (his favorite person after his wife, Nellie.... I told you, this guy is the real deal!) I paid attention and found the germ of a resolution:
"Mr. Lincoln said that people are generally as happy as they allow themselves to be"
This resolution has been life altering for me, and I happily add myself to the long list of people who have been influenced by Coach Wooden.  When I'm going down a sad path, I conjure up his face and his calm voice and it helps.  Not always, but most of the time.  And that's enough, because life isn't always fair.  After all, Coach's beloved wife, the only woman he'd ever kissed, died in 1985.  He's written her a love note every month since then, on the anniversary of her death.  He died thinking that it was still too soon for him to share the notes; his pain was too raw.

He leaves behind him children and grand-children and great-grand-children and decades of players and fans.  His death was peaceful and not expected.  He lived a useful, thoughtful, examined life.  He will be missed.