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The life and times of John Wooden

Text messages from press row…

June 10, 2010|Jerry Crowe

If all who were touched by John Wooden could attend his memorial, the Rose Bowl wouldn't be big enough. …

The principled, Indiana-bred Wooden was "so square," Jim Murray once wrote, "he was divisible by four." …

Wooden was a smoker — he picked up the habit while serving in the Navy during World War II — but never smoked during the season and had quit altogether by the time he retired in 1975. …

He did not drink. …

His musical tastes ran to Lawrence Welk and the Mills Brothers, the latter of whom he saw perform on his wedding night. …

Wooden's favorite movie was "Captains Courageous," a 1937 film starring Spencer Tracy. …

His favorite meal was the chicken dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, outside Knott's Berry Farm. …

In his 1972 book, "They Call Me Coach," Wooden describes meeting the love of his life at a carnival in Martinsville, Ind., during the summer of his freshman year in high school. …

"Nellie Riley," Wooden wrote, "was a pert, vivacious, captivating girl with a very vibrant personality." …

They'd been married 53 years when she died in 1985. …

On the day before John and Nell wed in August 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Wooden discovered that his life savings had been wiped out due to a bank failure. …

His nest egg – $909.05 – was gone. …

While playing semipro ball in the 1930s, the former Purdue All-American made 134 consecutive free throws. …

In 1947, at Chain of Lakes golf course in South Bend, Ind., Wooden carded a hole in one and a double eagle in a single round, a feat so rare that Golf Digest has recorded it happening only four other times. …

The so-called Wizard of Westwood despised his nickname. …

"I'm no wizard, and I don't like being thought of in that light," Wooden said. "I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician … and I don't want to be thought of in that way." …

Wooden had a great sense of humor, such as when he asked a passerby in Kansas City, on the day after the Bruins won their first NCAA title, how many people lived in the city. …

"I just wanted to know what the percentage was," he said, removing his soiled hat, "of that pigeon choosing me." …

Wooden was recommended to UCLA by Los Angeles Rams announcer Bob Kelley, who knew him in Indiana. …

In a January 1963 verse letter to Pete Blackman, one of his former players, Wooden predicted big things for his 1963-64 team, which featured Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Keith Erickson, Jack Hirsch, Fred Slaughter and Freddie Goss. …

The last several lines read: "I want to say — yes, I'll foretell/eventually this team will jell/and when they do, they will be great/a championship could be their fate/With every starter coming back/Yes, Walt and Gail and Keith and Jack/and Fred and Freddie and some more/we could be champs in sixty-four." …

UCLA was 30-0 in the '63-64 season, the first of four Wooden-coached teams that went undefeated. …

No starter on the team was taller than 6 feet 5. …

An unenthusiastic recruiter, Wooden had never seen Lew Alcindor play before the 7-foot-2 New Yorker announced in May 1965 that he would attend UCLA. …

Wooden called Mike Warren, who played on two title-winning teams, "as smart and valuable a guard as I ever had." …

Because of Bill Walton's balky knees, Wooden allowed him to skip practices and call time out whenever he wanted. …

Wooden never had his home phone number unlisted. …

His highest UCLA salary, in 1975, was $32,500. …

In his 2004 book, "John Wooden: An American Treasure," author Steve Bisheff notes that Wooden in 1971 turned down a lucrative offer from Indiana before recommending Jerry Tarkanian. …

The job went to Bobby Knight. …

Over tea with Jack Kent Cooke, Wooden declined an offer to coach the Lakers, who turned to Bill Sharman. …

Sharman and Wooden were close friends. …

At VIP's Cafe in Tarzana — "Coach John Wooden's favorite coffee shop," the menu says — Wooden was partial to the No. 2 breakfast special, with scrambled eggs and brittle bacon. …

For fans' sake, the den in Wooden's tiny Encino condominium should be re-created piece by piece in the foyer of the refurbished Pauley Pavilion — if not the Smithsonian. …

Wooden would have turned 100 on Oct. 14, the day before the traditional start of college basketball practice. …

"Things turn out best," Wooden said, quoting Abe Lincoln, "for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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