In Memory of John Robert Wooden (1910-2010)   1 comment

John R. Wooden, member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (for Purdue) and a coach (for UCLA), went to the hospital on Thursday for the final time. Today, at the age of 99, Wooden passed away. And, though I have cried over his death, I will not dwell on mourning that death. And I will not just celebrate his basketball career (even though Wooden won 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years). Instead, I want to focus on some aspects of his life that have blessed my soul beyond winning championships for my beloved UCLA Bruins.

Wooden was a man of faith who sought out opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in a manner that would bring Him utmost glory.

The thing that made Wooden different from other basketball coaches today is that his life did not revolve around basketball. He loved basketball, but he did not stay up during all hours of the night worrying about basketball strategy and match-ups. Some of you might argue that he did this because he coached during an era when being a college basketball coach was not as demanding… but I disagree. Wooden, if he was a coach today, might not have won as many championships or recruited as many superstar players. However, he would not have sacrificed those things that he always put ahead of basketball. Wooden even tried to instill such a mindset to other coaches and to his players. He once said, “I have 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 life that truly wins, and that is one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.”

Wooden, while he was evangelistic, was able to do so in a humble and gentle manner. Even players such as Lou Alcindor who eventually became a Muslim and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar have a strong admiration for Wooden, despite their obvious differences in religious views. And that is precisely because Wooden, although firm in his faith, was a man who was gentle and humble. I am reminded of Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Wooden exemplified such a lifestyle. Although he is widely regarded as the greatest coach in college basketball and arguably the greatest coach in the history of sports, Wooden was a man who spoke softly and kindly. He never used that fame for his own personal gains, but only used to further the cause of the gospel and of UCLA.

I remember meeting Wooden once in my life. I was doing security for him during a UCLA Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. I was able to stand right next to him (as he was sitting because he was about 95 years old at this point). It was a ceremony that celebrated, among other athletes, Ed O’Bannon (part of the 1995 NCAA Championship), but the true celebrity was Coach Wooden. There were dozens of UCLA Hall of Fame members there, but they were all in line for an opportunity to speak with Wooden, and I was there to make sure that they didn’t bum-rush him. Just being within a couple of feet with him, his humility and his kindness was clearly evident in not only his availability to meet people, but in the gracious way he spoke with them.

Wooden was a man who wanted his faith to be apparent to others. He was never shy about his faith, and he said, “If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.” Amen, Coach Wooden. He has been honored and revered in this world, but his treasure has always been tied in with his reward in heaven.

Wooden was a faithful family man who showed enduring love for his wife and his two children.

Wooden married his high school sweetheart, Nell, and they were married for 53 years until Nell passed away in 1985 from cancer. He was so devoted to his wife that, even after her death, he monthly writes a love letter and puts it under her pillow in bed… he wrote around 300 letters to her. It’s an amazing testament to see a man who understands the exclusivity of marriage–a man who was always faithful to his wife and devoted to her. It’s so rare to see a man who is so publicly adored who does not eventually succumb to adultery. Wooden, however, was able to remain devoted because he viewed his marriage through the lens of the gospel.

One of my favorite Wooden stories is the struggle he went through with UCLA when they were trying to honor him by naming the court at Pauley Pavillion after him. He didn’t want it to be just called “John R. Wooden Court” but wanted his wife’s name on there, too. UCLA did not want to do that, but eventually relented. They would call it “John and Nell Wooden Court” but he wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted her name first… and he eventually got his way. What an awesome example of a man who sought to honor his wife.


Thank you very much, Coach Wooden, for the way you lived, and for the faith you’ve exemplified in approaching death.


The following is Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success.” It’s pretty insightful, and hopefully you’re blessed by the wisdom of it.

If you can’t see it, which you probably cant… here’s the link:


Posted June 4, 2010 by Mitchell J. Kim in Uncategorized

One response to “In Memory of John Robert Wooden (1910-2010)

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