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John Wooden's lair on display at UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame

The late basketball coach's den, re-created as a UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame exhibit, opens to the public.

October 27, 2010|By Ben Bolch

The miniature bottle of Tabasco sauce might have brought a smile from the coach who said, "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen."

The bottle is exactly where John Wooden left it, lodged among scores of books on a shelf inside the den of the late UCLA basketball coach's Encino condominium. The den has been painstakingly re-created in a glass-enclosed exhibit that opened to the public Wednesday at the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame inside the J.D. Morgan Center.

Hub of activity

Lovingly decorated by his wife, Nell, the den served as Wooden's office and social gathering spot after he retired in 1975. It includes the desk where Wooden autographed thousands of pictures and wrote his monthly love letter to his wife after her death in 1984.

Along the back wall is a television set that plays a loop of Wooden's favorite western movies, UCLA basketball highlights and a tribute from Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. There is also a recliner in which Wooden lounged and a coffee table featuring sports books and a miniature model of Pauley Pavilion.

Every item is authentic except the new carpeting and the bookshelf, an exact replica.

The vision

UCLA senior associate athletic director Ken Weiner conceptualized the exhibit after visiting various athletic halls of fame around the country. Senior associate athletic director Bobby Field, who was close to Wooden's family, brought them on board with the idea of donating the contents of the den and relocating them to Westwood.

Exhibit curator Emily Greer used photos and a floor plan to meticulously re-create the living space, placing every book in the exact position it occupied inside Wooden's special room. She estimated it took about 48 man-hours to get everything just right.

"It was basically like a puzzle to put it back together," Greer said.

The memorabilia

Congratulatory letters from Presidents Nixon and Ford hang on one wall, and autographed basketballs from Wooden's 500th and 1,000th coaching victories are on the bookshelf. Above the television are pictures of Wooden's 10 UCLA championship teams arranged in a pyramid, a tribute to the coach's famed Pyramid of Success.

Among the treasure trove of trophies and plaques are a seemingly out-of-place mug with the phrase "For Papa, I Love You" and a plate adorned with colored scribbles given to Wooden by his grandchildren.

"What I love about these is they're given the same significance — or maybe more— than some of the amazing awards he won," Greer said.

Odds and ends

There are some surprising items, including a pool stick propped up against a wall and an iPod attached to a boombox. Wooden had no idea how to use the latter item, so his grandchildren programmed it for him.

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