Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Remembering John Wooden by Imitating His Faith

As a church planter in Los Angeles and helping to coach a ministry at UCLA, I can’t help but take a moment to reflect on John Wooden who according to the Los Angeles Times, “is one of the greatest coaches is sports history” and according to the New York Times, “became college basketball’s most successful coach… creating a sports dynasty against which all others are compared, and usually pale.” So what was it that made this man who he was?

“His teams at U.C.L.A. won 10 national championships in a 12-season stretch from 1964 to 1975.  From 1971 to 1974, U.C.L.A. won 88 consecutive games, still the N.C.A.A. record.  Four of Wooden’s teams finished with 30-0 records, including his first championship team, which featured no starters taller than 6 feet 5 inches,” says the NY Times.

The New York Times article and the Los Angeles Times article are some good articles to read to get a glimpse of this man’s life, but neither looks deeply into the heart of Wooden and takes a look at the faith that made the man. I didn’t read anything in the LA Times article about his faith, and the NY Times simply says he “was a religious man”, and then proceeds to do some creative editing when it comes to Wooden’s seven point creed, which documented at Wikipedia “was given to him by his father Joshua  upon his graduation from grammar school”:

1. Be true to yourself
2. Make each day your masterpiece.
3. Help others.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

The words that the New York Times edited out of their story are in red.  You can find the full version of his personal creed on Wikipedia entry on John Wooden, along with the sources.  While John obviously loved basketball, and let his players know that playing basketball for UCLA is a privilege, not a right, in his book They Call Me Coach, he says, “At the same time I always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate.  It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live.  There is only one kind of a life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters” (95).

According to Mitch Horowitz in this article, Wooden read the Bible daily, attended the First Christian Church and as this ESPN video – Love Letters – shows, deeply loved his wife of 53 years, to which he was loyal till his death yesterday.  And in his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court he includes this statement in the back matter section of his book entitled, My Favorite Maxims, “If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.”

His daily prayer that is filling up twitter is “Lord, make me beautiful inside.”  Here are some of the other of his favorite maxims:

“Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”

“Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.”

“I will get ready and then, perhaps, my chance will come.”

“If I am through learning, I am through.”

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

“The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.”

“The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.”

“Make sure the team members know they’re working with you, not for you.”

“Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story.”

“Failure is not fatal.  Failure to change might be.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation.  Character is what you really are, reputation is what others thing you are.”

“Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.”

It seems that his players and others picked up on who he was and what he was all about.  For as the New York Times article says near the end, quoting a Abdul-Jabbar back in a 2000 article, “To lead the way Coach Wooden led takes a tremendous amount of faith.  He was almost mystical in his approach, yet that approach only strengthened our confidence.  Coach Wooden enjoyed winning, but he did not put winning above everything.  He was more concerned that we become successful human beings, that we earned our degrees, that we learned to make the right choices as adults and as parents.  ‘In essence,’ Abdul-Jabbar concluded, ‘he was preparing us for life.’

As we remember John Wooden, may we do so by imitating his faith.  For as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).  Bill Nack at ESPN has a nice video remembering Wooden, especially his last quote.


9 Responses to Remembering John Wooden by Imitating His Faith

  1. jason smith says:

    although, on espn, they were pretty upfront about his faith today and ton of the folks they interviewed were frank about it. specifically, dot richardson was interviewed at the softball world series and wouldn’t stop talking about it.

  2. JR Woodward says:

    Jason,

    Yeah, it seems that ESPN was more forward with that aspect and had no problem with it. It’s not like the NY Times or LA Times need to go into his faith, though I think if they were trying to cover him holistically they would. And I thought it was interesting that the New York Times article deliberately edited out his personal creed.

  3. Eric says:

    Great write-up, JR. I’m a big basketball fan (though Wooden was certainly a bit ahead of my time) — but I had never heard about Wooden’s faith. It’s super-encouraging to know how committed he was to Jesus… A very honorable man indeed.

  4. JR Woodward says:

    Thanks Eric. Yeah, he was quite the man.

  5. Thanks for the post, J.R. I’ve admired John Wooden since my grandfather told me he is a distant relative. Since learning he was a devoted follower of Jesus, I’ve admired him even more.

    Peace,
    Brian

  6. JR Woodward says:

    Brian,

    That is cool to hear that he was a distant relative. Glad you enjoyed it.

    JR

  7. Dustin James says:

    JR, thanks for posting this rich memorial to Coach Wooden. I am going to share it with friends.

  8. JR Woodward says:

    Dustin,

    For sure. I would think UCLA students would love it.

  9. Pingback: John Wooden | SHOUT IT Ministries

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