TrueHoop: John Wooden

Friday Bullets

October, 28, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • Wizards shooting guard Jordan Crawford tells the Washington Post's Michael Lee, "I don’t tell nobody, but I feel like I can be better than Michael Jordan."
  • Nicolas Batum -- absolutely killing it in EuroLeague play. Nick Gibson of Sheridan Hoops: "Batum threw up a ridiculous line of 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists with a pair of steals and a ranking of 36 (think of ranking as a poor man’s PER, without the per-minute and pace adjustments). Those stellar numbers were enough to earn him the Euroleague’s Week 2 MVP award."
  • SportsFeat unearths a 1977 article written by Woody Allen about Earl Monroe for Sport magazine: "What makes Monroe different is the indescribable heat of genius that burns deep inside him. Some kind of diabolical intensity comes across his face when he has the ball. One is suddenly transported to a more primitive place. It’s roots time. The eyes are big and white, the teeth flash, the nostrils flare. He dribbles the ball too high, but with a controlled violence. The audience gets high with anticipation of some new type of thrill about to occur." (Hat tip: David Roth)
  • Grantland's Men in Blazers will match your devotion to an NBA team to a soccer club you can root for while the lockout continues.
  • Ira Winderman asks whether zone defenses in the NBA stifle individual brilliance. Perhaps, but the isolation and clearout-heavy NBA of the 1990s was painfully boring at times. Strategic intrigue brings a lot to basketball, a game that thrives on individual talent but also the choreography of fine-tuned team play.
  • LeBron James, Clyde Frazier, Sarah Palin, Rob Mahoney, John Wooden and Basketball Prospectus all in one place -- on The Painted Area's 2011-12 Basketball Books Overview.
  • A brief history of the 3-pointer at the Los Angeles Clippers' site, which means prominent placement for one Eric Piatkowski.
  • Some old-time Washington, D.C. hoops legends rally around an old friend, now in prison, who was once of the District's can't-miss prospects.
  • Andrew Sharp of SB Nation thinks there's something disingenuous about Michael Beasley's claims that he was exploited and betrayed by his former agent and AAU coach: "He felt betrayed when he found out that his agent had been taking care of his mother? He didn't think it was suspicious when his mother moved to Kansas State with him and had a new car and house when she got there? And this 'betrayal' just happens to crystallize after Bell had negotiated the parameters of a shoe deal for him, but before he signed it and would've paid Bell a hefty commission?"
  • The gray wool suit -- an essential for the civilized man, but might be a bit toasty for Dwyane Wade in Miami. In the accompanying interview with GQ, we get a glimpse of how Wade stocks his wardrobe with the help of his iPad: "So how does Wade put his looks together? With the help of his stylist, Calyann Barnett. Barnett's star client loves getting dressed but hates shopping—he can't exactly roll up to the Miami Bloomingdale's—so she sends photos to his iPad and fills up his new 800-square-foot closet."

John Wooden is 99

October, 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, coach.

His family says they will celebrate quietly.

The tallest of his red-headed former pupils, Bill Walton, has written Wooden a heartfelt and funny letter full of memories and ... play-by-play of some of Walton's favorite new albums. He even implies that Bob Dylan's newest includes two songs Dylan wrote "specifically for" John Wooden. I read the lyrics of those songs -- and I'm sure Walton couldn't mean that literally.

By total coincidence, yesterday I bought a classic Wooden book: "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court."

There are several great tales in there, but one really stuck with me.

Wooden, of course, is almost synonymous with UCLA. But here's the amazing thing. At the time he was offered the UCLA job, he was also in the running to become head coach in Minnesota, which was closer to home for him. There were some complications with the Minnesota position, though, which he wanted to get straightened out first. They said they'd call by 6 p.m. with the details of his final offer. UCLA was due to call at 7.

Minnesota didn't call, so when UCLA called, Wooden said yes to his second choice.

As he hung up the phone, it rang, and it was Minnesota. A blizzard had knocked out all the phone lines, so they had been unable to get through, but now they were offering everything he had asked for.

Had I been able to terminate my agreement with UCLA in an honorable fashion, I would have done so immediately. But I had given my word just a few minutes before.

If fate had not intervened, I would never had gone to UCLA. But my dad's little set of threes served me well: "Don't whine. Don't complain. Don't make excuses."...

I believe that things are directed in some sort of way. I'm not exactly sure how. I also believe that things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

Talk about making the best of it: John Wooden went on to lead UCLA to what may have been the greatest coaching run in college sports history. 

I'm roughly a year late to this article.

But it's something really worth knowing about.

John Wooden, in basketball circles, walks on water. He's simply as unimpeachable as one can be.

(A couple of times I have crossed paths with him, and felt compelled to ask him questions, but stop short of "hello," befuddled, not knowing, exactly, how one is meant to approach an oracle.)

It is not without merit. Not only did he win a fantastic number of games, but he even managed to do so as Mr. Straight-Laced, while leading (among others) Mr. Counter-Cultural, Bill Walton.

And I know they had their battles, but Walton loves the guy! That implies a certain pleasing flexibility.

But was that flexibility really there? If you look at the evidence, it's entirely possible that Coach Wooden was about as controlling as any coach has ever been. Was he one of those coaches who stripped all the fun right out of the game?

Is it really reasonable to be against dunks?

In December 2006, on Slate, Tommy Craggs examined how Wooden is revered:

Wooden, now 96, was indisputably a great coach. His teams, always fit and energetic, won a fat load of games and championships. (Though it bears noting that UCLA benefited not only from the services of the best talent of the day, but also from the largesse of an especially oily booster named Sam Gilbert, a moneylender, as it were, whom Coach Christ forgot to cast out of the temple). But it's time we retire this notion of Wooden as basketball's wise old man and see his legacy for what it is: a triumph of rigidity, bureaucracy, paternalism, and anal retentiveness. The sorts of things, in other words, that James Naismith would hate about his game today.

Last month, Wooden was inducted, along with Naismith, into the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Joined forever in hoops iconography and at least superficially alike -- both men of the cloth, both nonsmokers and noncussers -- in reality the two couldn't make an odder pair. Wooden was a relentless taskmaster who counted discipline among the game's most important tenets. He had a hand in everything, from his players' grooming habits down to the wool content of their socks (50 percent). In one incredible passage in his coaching textbook, Practical Modern Basketball, Wooden details the Bruins' eating routine: "The meal usually consists of a ten-to-twelve-ounce steak broiled medium or an equivalent portion of lean roast beef, a small baked potato, a green vegetable, three pieces of celery, four small slices of melba toast, some honey, hot tea, and a dish of fruit cocktail. Occasionally, I let the player eat as he thinks best."

But Naismith, as art critic Dave Hickey has noted, was wonderfully Jeffersonian. He set down only five guiding principles-discipline not among them-to govern his game, which he was delighted to point out did not need a coach. The beauty of Naismith's invention is that it foresaw, even insisted upon, its own evolution-why else put the hoop in the air? And why else include, in those earthbound days, a goaltending rule? He once wrote: "Each generation that has played basketball has passed on some new developments to the next. The technique and expertness with which the game is now played are indeed wonderful to me."

Basketball's innate progressive spirit is what makes Wooden's sainthood so galling. Hoophead reactionaries, those joyless old prigs who despair that their game doesn't look more like a Gil Thorp panel, have always found in Wooden a sort of patron saint. Not, say, the late Red Auerbach, a man who won as much in the NBA as Wooden did in the college game. Auerbach, no bleeding heart himself, at least recognized the plates shifting under his feet, and is now credited with ushering the pro game into the modern era.

But Wooden has never budged.

Really encourage you to read the whole article. Interesting stuff.