Wooden has been giving this same sort of
speech for decades. “Some people who’ve
heard me explain it a few times will tell me
that it sounds a little different each time, and
yet it’s still the same,” he says.
His timeless words of wisdom—entitled
the Pyramid of Success—are a formalized
collection of life principles for which
Wooden has become known. They are considered by many to be the building blocks for
both personal and professional achievement.
“Coach’s message transcends all professions, all walks of life,” says Swen Nater,
director of Costco’s employee outreach program and a UCLA player under Wooden
from 1970 through 1973. “His pyramid
teaches people to be the best that they can be,
because that’s the only thing a person really
has any control over.”
Wooden knows a bit about ascending to
incredible heights. He’s known throughout
college basketball lore as the “Wizard of
Westwood” for guiding his UCLA teams to
Over the years comes the enduring portrait of the jagged-faced man with the owlish
glasses who walked the basketball sidelines
in neatly cut suits. He always clenched a
game program rolled firm and thin. With his
paper wand, Wooden orchestrated the making
of college basketball history. His teams won
an unprecedented 10 national titles from 1964
until his retirement in 1975, including seven
in a row from 1967 through 1973.
There were four perfect seasons. An 88-
game winning streak. And an unbelievable 38
consecutive NCAA tournament victories.
Wooden is also one of only two men (along
with Lenny Wilkens) to be honored in the
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
as both player and coach.
And the list of Wooden’s former student-athletes is no less impressive, featuring some of
the best college basketball players ever: Lew
Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill
Walton, Gail Goodrich, Keith (Jamaal) Wilkes,
Sidney Wicks, Marques Johnson, Dave Meyers
and Lucius Allen, who went on to prestigious
professional careers of their own.
When Wooden helped cut down the nets,
then walked with his wife, Nell, off the San
Diego Sports Arena court 27 years ago for the
final time as a coach, he left behind a legacy
that may be unmatched in any major sport
before or since. His retirement was sudden.
But despite leaving the game while at the top
of his, he has few regrets.
The spotlight shone on Wooden for years,
but acclaim was the thing he relished least
and never missed.
“I miss the daily practices—that’s the
only part I’ve ever missed,” Wooden tells The
Connection in an interview at his condominium in Encino, California. “I love to teach,
and that’s what practices were, teaching.
“The games were like a test of how well I
taught. The games I don’t miss. The folderol,
the tournaments. Don’t miss it a bit.”
John Wooden’s favorite maxims
• Happiness begins where selfishness ends.
• Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
• If I am through learning, I am through.
• Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to
remember a story.
• Don’t let making a living prevent you from
making a life.
• The best thing a father can do for his
children is to love their mother.
• Do not permit what you cannot do to
interfere with what you can do.
• Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.
• The time to make friends is before you
• Treat all people with dignity and respect.
• Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to
become the best of which you are capable.
LIT TLE GYM ON THE PRAIRIE
John Wooden was anything but your typical coach. He didn’t resort to verbal or physical intimidation tactics. He rarely got off the
bench, rarely raised his voice. He was, first
and foremost, a teacher, a gentle man whose
lessons were timeless.
His practice gym on the UCLA campus
resembled an old-fashioned schoolhouse
transported from his hometown of Mar-
tinsville, Indiana. For a couple of hours a day
his attentive pupils listened to material that
seemed to have emerged from a time warp.
“He rarely talked about basketball with
us,” Nater recalls. “He talked to us about
human values and characteristics we’d need
to be successful. He taught us how to create
fun and enjoyment in our lives.”
His students listened, because they knew
they would win if they learned their lessons.
The fundamentals came with useful proverbs
• Be quick, but don’t be in a hurry.
• Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
• The purpose of discipline isn’t to punish
but to correct.
• Do not mistake activity for achievement.
• If I am through learning, I am through.
• Make each day your masterpiece.
“We thought we were the coolest things,
living the life of collegiate athletes,” former
UCLA and NBA great and Hall of Fame
member Bill Walton remembers. “Coach
came out with all these sayings. We thought
he was a walking antique.... Little did we
know that all the life lessons he gave us
would ring perfectly true.”
A STRONG FOUNDATION
The coach was also an excellent student.
He learned many of his most important
lessons from his father, Hugh, while growing
up on a small farm in Martinsville.
Wooden says that many of the building
blocks of his pyramid came from the strong
moral foundation his father built for him and
his three brothers.
“My father was a gentle man who had
great conviction,” recalls Wooden, an out-