Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Winds of Fate

The Winds of Fate


Once, Coach Wooden read me a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox that was a great encouragement to me. I don’t remember the occasion but I believe it was the following.


In 1975, fewer than two years into my ABA career, I suffered a knee injury while playing for the San Antonio Spurs. In warmups, I jumped and heard a snap in my left knee. As it turned out, about one-fifth of my knee cap split away from the rest. I finished the season and then traveled to Inglewood, California, to have the Lakers doctor perform surgery. Surgery went well, I was wheeled into the recovery room, and finally to my hospital room.


I went in and out of sleep. Once when I woke up, I saw two rather blurry faces. As my vision cleared, I recognized John Wooden and Bill Sharman. Sharman was coach of the Lakers at that time I believe. What a wonderful surprise.


Mr. Sharman handed me a book on basketball he and Coach Wooden had authored. It contained detailed explanations and illustration regarding the fundamentals of the game. It was signed by both of them. I still have it.


And then that’s when, I believe, Coach Wooden read me a portion of the poem, The Winds of Fate. He could see I was discouraged. Here I was, just a year or so into my career and I was facing a huge challenge. This was a serious injury and Coach knew it. He wanted me to know, my success for coming back was directly related to my attitude. I got the message. I came back. I love you, Coach Wooden.


The Winds of Fate


But to every man there openeth,

A high way and a low.

And every mind decideth,

The way his soul shall go.


One ship drives East while the other drives West,

By the self-same winds that blow.

‘Tis the set of the sails,

And not the gales,

That tells it where to go.


Like the winds of the sea,

Are the waves of fate,

As we journey along through life.

‘Tis the set of the soul,

That determines the goal,

And not the calm or the strife.

Friday, August 10, 2018

John Wooden and Mental Toughness

John Wooden and Mental Toughness


Henry Bibby gets the outlet pass. It’s another UCLA fast break. Bibby passes to Rowe on the left side. Here comes Wicks on the right side. Steve Patterson is trailing and coming straight down the middle. Rowe back to Bibby, Bibby to Wicks, Wicks to Patterson for the uncontested layup. Score!


That would be a signature play for John Wooden’s UCLA teams. We were famous for being unselfish, in great condition, and extremely skilled especially with the pass. But few talk about how mentally-tough the Bruins were.


Mentally-tough athletes are conditioned to maintain poise, effort, and concentration during times of resistance and nonresistance, and are able to give their best when their best is needed.


When we were up by twenty points, we kept pouring it on. When we were down by ten points, we raised our game and made the comeback to win. Nothing could rattle us, no fan, score, or official. Nothing could cause us to think it was hopeless or in the bag. We were tough, as tough as nails.


How did Coach Wooden develop such resilient individuals and teams? Here are three steps:  


Step 1: Teach the Pyramid

Although Coach Wooden never directly taught us the Pyramid of Success, it was there. It was there when he said before games, “If you’ve done all you can to prepare, I want your heads up at the end.” It was there when he never mentioned the word, “win,” one time. It was there when he taught the fundamentals (skill), subjected us to immense physical challenges (condition), and incessantly emphasized working together (team spirit). Those three blocks of the pyramid will begin to make you tough. Mentally tough players are always skilled, conditioned and unselfish.


Step 2: Apply the Pressure

Coach Wooden trained the mind to be the boss over the body. That’s mental toughness. The body wants to do this but you say, “No. You’re doing that.” All practice long, we were begging to take a break. When he saw my tongue dragging on the hardwood floor he yelled, “Get going! What are you waiting for?” That’s when my mind told my body to move. His method for getting yourself in shape was, “Go until you can’t go anymore and then go a little more.”


We scrimmaged a lot, half court and full. We screwed up a lot. He would say, “Don’t sulk. Try it again. Figure it out.” That’s when my mind told my body to get going once again. He applied pressure every day, all season.


Step 3: Model the Pattern

No written word, no oral plea,

Can teach our youth what they should be,

Nor all the books on all the shelves;

It’s what the teachers are themselves.



Teach the Pyramid and apply the pressure but the best way to teach mental toughness is to demonstrate it. UCLA players were mentally-tough because our coach was. Nothing rattled John Wooden. Nothing affected his concentration. He was a tough son of a gun.


When we got behind in a game because the other team was hot and we had not yet figured out how to beat them, Coach grinned. To us it was a big thing; to him it was a small thing. He knew we would come back. When we saw that, we believed and went to work.


So that’s how John Wooden created mentally-tough teams. Get us down by twenty, and we’re coming back, together. Let us up by twenty, and we’ll bury you. And if the score was close with a minute to go, you had better be careful. UCLA was raising its game to a level you have never seen.  

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Truth about Sam Gilbert and John Wooden

The Truth about Sam Gilbert and John Wooden


The summer between my junior and senior years at UCLA, I had the privilege of being coached for two weeks by Bobby Knight at the 1972 Olympic trials in Colorado Springs. I found him to be an exceptional teacher and his knowledge of the game, I must say, was in the same league as my college coach John Wooden. He was also fun to be around, especially when watching him interact with the officials.


The entire group was divided into eight teams, so each team played seven games. The very first game, Knight was all over the refs but they barely acknowledged he was there. So the next game, he coached in a referee shirt and it worked.


Coach Knight was good to me. He played me a lot and I ended up leading the entire camp in scoring. The NBA and ABA scouts were there and my stock went up considerably. I have often thanked Coach Knight for what he did for me.  


I was on the 1973 UCLA team that played Indiana University (Knight was coach) in the semifinals of the final four. Although they gave us a run for our money, we won and went on to win our seventh straight NCAA championship.


Fast forward to November 8, 2017 where in an interview, “Speak for Yourself,” Knight said:


“I have a lot of respect for Wooden as a coach. He was a good coach. I don’t respect Wooden because he allowed Sam Gilbert to do whatever he could to recruit kids.”

“I think John was called in and told he didn’t have to worry about recruiting. People would take care of that for him.”


Sam Gilbert was a millionaire real estate tycoon, based in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. Sam was a UCLA basketball fan but went a bit too far. He illegally helped some of the players, materially and financially. Coach Wooden got wind of what was going on, warned us to stay away from Gilbert, and trusted us to do the right thing. The rest of the story is, the NCAA put UCLA on probation years after Wooden retired.


But I have no idea why Bobby Knight claimed Gilbert was involved in player recruitment. I was a UCLA player for three years and never heard anything of the sort.  


To this day, there is much communication between Bruins, and to my knowledge, not one has ever said, Gilbert helped recruit him, and that includes Kareem, Walton, Johnson, Wilkes, Wicks, and Hazzard. I have read numerous articles about Sam Gilbert’s dealings and nowhere have I found even a hint of Gilbert being involved in UCLA recruiting. Had it been true, it certainly would have surfaced by now, don’t you think? It’s been over 40 years.


Knight erroneously assumed Wooden needed help recruiting. Are you kidding? The best players in the country were standing in line wanting to join the legendary program Coach Wooden had developed. As for me, I wanted to play for a coach that was a role model, and who:


  1. Didn’t grab players by the jersey and jerk them to their seats
  2. Didn’t hit a policeman before a practice
  3. Didn’t get into a shoving match with a reporter and stuff him into a garbage can
  4. Didn’t curse at the Big Ten commissioner from midcourt
  5. Didn’t toss a chair across the court
  6. Didn’t bang his fist on the scorer’s table and pull his team off the floor before the end of a game in protest
  7. Didn’t scream at his son and kick at him
  8. Didn’t go into an outburst at a news conference
  9. Didn’t berate a referee and call his work on the court “the greatest travesty”
  10. Didn’t choke a player in practice and get suspended for three games.

But I have to confess; Coach Wooden bribed me into signing with UCLA.


On three of my other four visits to major universities that recruited me out of junior college, one gave his players money to take me to a porn flick and offered me a bunch of cash when I departed. Another promised me a starting spot. One coach set me up with a date —the football centennial queen who followed up our date by writing a letter which said in part, “When you get here, I want us to date.”  


Coach Wooden took me to a UCLA track meet. As we watched, he said I’d never see much playing time because the best center in the country was coming to play at UCLA — that was Bill Walton, 3-time NCAA player of the year.


He also promised, to the best of his ability, he would help me make maximum improvement. Every day in practice, he said, I would be honing my skills against the best team in the country — the six-time NCAA champion Bruins. He thought I would have a very good chance of being noticed by NBA scouts, even if I never started a game.


I just couldn’t resist that bribe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

John Wooden the Competitor

John Wooden the Competitor


Who was John Wooden? Rather, what was he like? The popular opinion seems to be, he was a very kind man, a man of principles, and a Saint of sorts. In fact, John Wooden has been nicknamed, St. John.


Thousands will testify of his generosity and integrity. When calling for an appointment at his Encino condominium, few have failed to get one. When with Wooden, one was showered with wise sayings and poetry that illustrated such powerful truths, many say, “A visit with Coach Wooden was a life-changing experience.” Books have been written about his high moral standards and living a life above reproach. “Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal. Never whine. Never complain. Never make excuses.” He lived that.



Those who tossed him flattery have seen his chin quickly drop to his chest, as if to dodge the praise. When one gentleman told Coach how honored he was to be in his presence, Coach told him, “I am not what I used to be. I’m working on becoming better every day,” and then thanked the man for the reminder. Deeply and soberly committed to keeping his ego down where it should be, to Coach Wooden, a compliment was very much like Kryptonite.



But make no mistake; John Wooden didn’t win the Indiana State high school championship and the national collegiate championship as a player being a nice guy. And he certainly didn’t win ten NCAA championships as a coach by being everyone’s friend. The world may never have seen a more ruthless competitor. Within the rules of course, he did everything he could to gain an edge and that did not rule out “working the officials” and “working the opposing players.”


Following are excerpts from a 1969 article in The Vault entitled, “Two Faces of the Rubber Man,” John Wooden’s nickname as a player. He had won four championships at this point.


Working the Officials

His scathing comments can melt a referee’s whistle almost in mid-tweet. One official said, “I’ve seen him so mad that I’ve been afraid he’d pop that big blood vessel in his forehead. But I never heard him curse.”


“Dadburn it! You saw him double dribble down there! Goodness gracious sakes alive! Everybody in the place saw that!”


Eddie Powell, a player for Wooden at South Bend Central High School, said, "Usually sometime during the first half he would choose one incident, a close call, and jump all over the referee," said Powell. "Just chew him out in a gentlemanly manner, if there is such a thing, but let him know that there is that side of him. During the half he'd seek out the referee and apologize to him. He'd say, 'I know I should have known it was a close call. I was wrong. It's just a job and you're doing the best you can.'


"And then they'd part with Wooden walking away meek as you please. In the second half, if another close call arose, chances are the referee'd call the play in Wooden's favor."


To make his full-court press as effective as possible, Wooden wants referees to be acutely aware of the rule that gives a team only 10 seconds to get the ball across the mid-court line. Sometimes he carries a stopwatch to the bench. He will not say a word about it and probably will not check it, but he will make certain that the officials notice it.

"No official, no player has ever heard me use a word of profanity," he says. "I don't stand up and do anything to excite the crowd. That's one of the worst things coaches can do. You've never seen me throw a chair or a towel, or jump up and go down the floor yelling.

"I don't say, 'You're a homer!' I'll say, 'Don't be a homer! I'll say, 'See 'em the same at both ends!' I'll say, 'Watch the traveling,' or some such, but no profanity and nothing personal.

Working Opposing Players

"The thing I may be ashamed of more than anything else is having talked to opposing players, not calling them names but saying something like 'Keep your hands off of him' or 'Don't be a butcher' or something of that type."

Walt Hazzard, the high scorer and imaginative passer who sparked Wooden's first NCAA title team in 1963-64, is a great admirer of Wooden's needling. "He is one of the best bench jockeys in the world. He has an 'antiseptic needle'—clean but biting. I've seen opposing players left shaking their heads, but there was nothing they could say."


I think you get the idea. But just in case, let me finish with a story Coach told me. He and Denny Crum, his assistant who went on to coaching greatness himself, regularly played Saturday morning golf. Coach told me, “Denny was a much better golfer than I but he rarely beat me. I had to do whatever I could to make the playing field more even. So, for example, when Denny would line up a putt that would win him the hole, I might say, on his backstroke, “Are you sure you accounted for the break?” Most of the time, he missed the putt.


Does this information lower your opinion of John Wooden? Not me. I admire him even more. In fact, I’ve taken notes. Wanna play a round of golf?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Coach Wooden and the O.J. Simpson Painting

Coach Wooden and the O.J. Simpson Painting


The following story was told to me by Mike Warren, starting point guard on three consecutive UCLA championship teams.


There’s a great story that Coach told me about an Andy Warhol painting of O.J. Simpson that was in the Wooden Center. Why it was hanging in the Center was beyond Coach Wooden’s comprehension. This was quite a while after O.J. was found not guilty in the murder trial of his wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman. Coach was talking to the Wooden Center’s Manager and he expressed his displeasure with OJ’s picture being there.  


“It doesn’t make much sense, do you think, to have OJ Simpson’s picture in the Wooden Center?”


The manager said, “Coach, you’re probably right but I don’t have the power to put up or take down anything.”


The Coach replied, “Do you think it would be easier to take down OJ’s painting or my name off of the building?”


“Coach, I’ll look into it right away.” A short while later, Coach was at an event where the UCLA Chancellor at the time, Albert Carnesale, was also present and not too far away. In a voice just loud enough for Albert to hear, the Coach went on a rampage talking about OJ’s picture being in the Wooden Center and how it didn’t make any sense to have it up. He went on and on about how displeased he was that it wasn’t taken down.


Again, he pulls out his trump card question. “Do you think it would be easier to remove OJ’s painting or my name?” He never once looked at the Chancellor but his words were definitely heard.


A day or so later, Coach saw the Center’s manager again. “Coach, did you know I took down OJ’s painting.” “No, I didn’t know but it looks like someone agreed with me.”


Later, Coach saw Albert Carnesale at another function and, excitedly, the chancellor said to the Coach, “John, the other week at the (he named the function), were you specifically talking to me about the OJ’s painting and not necessarily to the person you were conversing with?” Wooden never answered but Albert did see that little twinkle that Coach usually gave when he had put something over on someone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Coach Wooden and the Pre-Game Meal

Coach Wooden and the Pre-Game Meal


It was Saturday, December 5, 1970 and UCLA was playing its second game of the season, a preseason game against Rice University. The day before, they had beaten Baylor 108-77. Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, the two All-American forwards, had demonstrated not only why they were national champions the year before, but that UCLA was in shape to win it again.


But when the starting team was announced, Sidney and Curtis were not included. In fact, Coach Wooden didn’t put them in the game until ten minutes were used first half. Why? These were the two best players in the country and Coach Wooden always started his best team.


On the day of every game, home and away, UCLA coaches and players ate pre-game meal together about five hours before game time. The menu never changed: a 16 oz New York steak, baked potato with one TBS butter, peas, fruit cup, Melba toast, and hot tea.  


On that particular day, pre-game meal was at 3:00. It was very unusual for anyone to be late to anything, especially this great dinner, but Wicks and Rowe casually strolled in at 3:10, not apologizing but rather greeting everyone as if nothing was wrong. Coach Wooden didn’t say anything.


Fast forward to about twenty minutes before game time when Coach Wooden was addressing the team before it went out to the floor for warmups. As always, he provided the matchups, which means, who was guarding who. Wicks and Rowe were not mentioned.


Twenty one minutes before game time, Coach Wooden told everyone to get into the hallway and prepare to go out to the floor for warmups. Everyone went out except for Sidney and Curtis. Coach asked, “Why are you not going?” I think it was Wicks who arrogantly demanded, “Why are we not starting?” Coach said, “You were ten minutes late for pre-game meal, so you’ll not play the first ten minutes of the game.”


Wicks said, “Well when you call us to send us into the game, we may not go at all.” Coach Wooden replied, “If you don’t go in the game when I call you, you’ll not play another minute for UCLA.”


When ten minutes were gone, Coach looked down the bench and yelled, “Curtis and Sidney: Get in the game!” They sprinted to the scorer’s table. UCLA won the game 124-78 and Coach didn’t have a problem with the two forwards the rest of the season. UCLA repeated as Champion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Coach Wooden and Grandchildren

Coach Wooden and Grandchildren


Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about the Xs and Os of basketball. He liked explaining how things work. Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about life. He really liked talking about life. Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about the ins and outs of creating a united team. He would sit up in his chair to talk about that. I have talked with John Wooden about grandchildren. That’s when he would sit up in his chair and lean forward. I think he loved that subject more than anything else. Stories and stories he would tell filled with very funny and heart-warming moments. Once Coach said, “My granddaughter looked at me eye to eye, moved in a little closer almost nose to nose, and softly said, ‘Papa. You’re really sumpin.’”  


Like many, I didn’t understand his joy until I received my first grandson, Chase Maxwell. I wanted Coach to know I had learned the lesson so I wrote this poem and sent it to him.  



Grandpa’s Little Boy

Swen Nater


I hold my infant grandson tenderly.

His eyes meet mine and I hear angels sing.

His trusting stare gives more than worth to me.

Oh, I am rich, yes richer than a king.


And when I think of all the waiting rhymes,

Created for those virgin, tender ears,

The circus clowns and puppet shows and mimes,

I beg my God to live a few more years.