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.