by Armon Gilliam

I had the pleasure of meeting John Wooden on a number of occasions. While being in Coach Wooden’s presence I instinctively knew that there was something very authentic, noble and virtuous about him. His countenance was dignified, his eyes were pure and flashed with intelligence, his words were gracious and his comportment was noble.


Wooden was a man that remained true to his deepest convictions in life. Although he became famous for winning an unprecedented 10 national championships in 12 years at UCLA, the values, qualities and many life lessons he possessed and shared with those in his sphere of influence really defines his true merit. Therefore, it would be a mistake to view Mr. Wooden as merely a Hall of Fame basketball coach. Laker great Jerry West said it best; “Forget his accomplishments, he’s a great man. He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever been around in my life.” Coach John Wooden was a rare breed of a man who embodied virtuous qualities and made the world a better place because of the noble manner in which he lived his life.

In 1910 Roxie Anna Wooden and Joshua Hugh Wooden celebrated the birth of a son in Hall, Ind., who they named John. He was raised in a very modest farmhouse without running water or electricity. Eventually the family farming business went bankrupt and the Wooden family was forced to pack up their meager belongings and move to Martinsville, Ind. It is important to note that the strong Christian values, discipline, responsibility and sound work ethic that John learned as a child, greatly influenced his life. His core beliefs were summarized in the seven-point creed his father gave him upon graduation from grammar school and later echoed in “The Pyramid of Success” and his quotes.

TOP CONTENDER—Armon Gilliam speaks at the 1987 John Wooden Award ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Wooden is seated next to the podium. Gilliam was a finalist for the prestigious award, was won that year by Navy’s David Robinson.

Wooden started his basketball career in Martinsville. He led his team to the Indiana State championship game for three consecutive years winning in 1927. After graduating in 1928, he attended Purdue University and became an integral part of the team that won the 1932 National Championship. He was the first player ever to be named a three-time consensus All-American for the sport of basketball. After graduating in 1932 with a degree in English, Wooden spent several years playing pro basketball with the Indianapolis Kautskys.

In his coaching debut, Wooden had two unsuccessful seasons as head coach of Dayton High School in Kentucky. He then returned to his home state at South Bend Central High School where he compiled a winning record of 212 wins and 31 losses in nine seasons. After a stint in the military, Wooden resumed his career at Indiana Teacher’s College, later named Indiana State University. Wooden played several roles at Indiana State. He was the head baseball coach, head men’s basketball coach and athletic director. The next stop was UCLA. He accepted the head coaching job in 1948 and immediately turned the program into a winner. In the 1948-49 season, the Bruins posted a 22-7 record and were the Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division champions. During Wooden’s tenure he gained lasting fame by winning 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons.

There are three things that capture the essence of John Wooden. The seven- point creed that his father gave him upon graduation from grammar school, “The Pyramid of Success” and his many noteworthy quotes.

The following is the seven- point creed:

Be true to yourself. Make each day your masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day.

Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Wooden spent nearly 14 years identifying 25 behaviors that he believed were necessary to achieve his idea of success. This journey culminated in what he called “The Pyramid of Success.” Although Wooden formulated “The Pyramid of Success” (see chart) for his players, it was later used as a model of how to succeed in business, relationships and life.

Wooden made many noteworthy quotes. The following are some of my favorites taken from his book “They Call Me Coach.”

1. “Nothing will work unless you do.”

2. “Ability may take you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

3. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

4. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

5. “If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.”

6. “You can’t live a perfect day with doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

7. “Things turn out best for those that make the best of the way things turned out.”

8. “Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.

We live in a world where: a me first attitude, corruption, disloyalty, slander, immorality, a poor work ethic and gossip, to name a few are commonplace. This sad reality only makes the legacy of John Wooden stand out even more. Coach Wooden was a shining light of goodness that brightened the lives of those in his sphere of influence. I bow in honor to this noble man and his legacy. Rest in peace, Coach.

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