Wooden delivers instructions during a timeout in the 1972 NCAA championship… (Rich Clarkson / Sports Illustrated )
John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who became an icon of American sports while guiding the Bruins to an unprecedented 10 national championships in the 1960s and '70s and remained in the spotlight during retirement with his "Pyramid of Success" motivational program, has died. He was 99.
Wooden died Friday evening of natural causes at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the university announced. He had been hospitalized since last week for dehydration.
FOR THE RECORD:
John Wooden obituary: The obituary on John Wooden that ran in Section A on June 5 and in a commemorative section June 13 included information attributed to former UCLA basketball player Andy Hill regarding controversial booster Sam Gilbert. The article reported that Hill had told The Times that former team trainer Elvin "Ducky" Drake was something of a watchdog for the team, and that Drake had apparently missed what was going on with Gilbert. Hill says that he did not discuss that with the reporter and that Drake would not have been in a position to do anything to detect Gilbert's involvement or stop Gilbert from any inappropriate action. —
Though the stern, dignified Midwesterner's fame extended beyond the sports world, it was Wooden's achievements during 27 seasons at UCLA that put him in the company of such legendary coaches as the Green Bay Packers' Vince Lombardi and Notre Dame's Knute Rockne.
His string of championships began with back-to-back victories in 1964 and '65. Starting in 1967, his team ran off seven consecutive NCAA titles — going 38 tournament games without a loss — a feat unmatched before or since in men's college basketball.
The Bruins won with dominant players such as Walt Hazzard, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. They also won with teams — such as Wooden's last squad in 1974-75 — that had no marquee stars.
That team defeated Kentucky, 92-85, in the national championship game to give Wooden his 10th and final title. (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke won his fourth national title this spring, matching the total won by the late Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.)
In 40 years of coaching high school and college, Wooden had only one losing season — his first. He finished with 885 wins and 203 losses, and his UCLA teams still hold an NCAA record for winning 88 consecutive games from 1971 through 1974.
The Bruins attained greatness during a golden age in Los Angeles sports. The Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale on the mound at newly built Dodger Stadium. The Lakers, with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, battled annually for the National Basketball Assn. championship. The USC football team, coached by John McKay, won several national titles.
But for all the success that local teams enjoyed, none could match UCLA for the sheer number of championships.
Wooden built his dynasty on simple precepts. He insisted that his squad be meticulously prepared and in top physical condition. No detail was overlooked. The first practice of each season, the coach would remind his players about pulling on socks smoothly and carefully lacing sneakers — there would be no excuse for debilitating blisters.
His workouts were so grueling that former players said they often were relieved to play in games.
In the 2005 book "Wooden on Leadership," guard Gail Goodrich recalled, "He believed that winning is a result of process, and he was a master of the process, of getting us to focus on what we were doing rather than the final score. One drill he had was to run a play over and over at full speed, but he wouldn't let us shoot the ball. He made us concentrate on what happened before the shot was taken, what happened to make it possible. He made us focus on execution. He built teams that knew how to execute."
Walton, in his book "Nothing but Net," wrote: "John Wooden was so intense during those practices. He never stopped moving, never stopped chattering away. Up and down the court he would pace, always barking out his pet little phrases."
Those phrases reflected another facet of Wooden's coaching style: He demanded crisp fundamentals and teamwork predicated on passing and cutting to the basket. He wanted his players to be smart, both on the court and in their lives away from the game.
Among Wooden's pithy maxims:
"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
"Flexibility is the key to stability."
"Be quick, but don't hurry."
This approach produced immediate results. Upon arriving in Westwood in 1948, Wooden inherited an underachieving team picked to finish last in the conference. Instead, the Bruins wound up with a 22-7 record. The next season, they won the conference championship.