This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated features John Wooden on the cover — only the second time the magazine has had him on the front.
His only other appearance: Dec. 25, 1972, when he was Sportsman of the Year — sharing it with Billie Jean King.
Curry Kirkpatrick did that story entitled “The Ball in Two Different Courts” (linked here), and wrote about Wooden:
UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, now 62, won his sixth straight college championship, an accomplishment dwarfing anything his sport has ever known. …
Wooden (who last week was recovering from a mild heart condition that will cause him to miss a few weeks of the season) was asked what makes UCLA basketball so overwhelmingly successful.
“There is no easy explanation,” he said. “What we do is simple: get in condition, learn fundamentals and play together. I don’t buy the proposition that UCLA has risen above the general level of college basketball. We’ve been more consistent, come closer to our natural ability more often than others.
“We’ve had a great run, and each season I can see this certain carryover to the new players. Subconsciously, they are almost afraid to fail. This encourages them to give more in practice and accept some things in the way of discipline that they wouldn’t otherwise. I get away with methods other coaches have trouble defining to their players, but I have no delusions. It’s not me; it is because UCLA wins that the players don’t give me more guff.”
Wooden spoke about the college game. “There is room for improvement in several areas of our sport. I advocate the 30-second clock to cut down on inactivity and the stall games. Jump balls should be eliminated, along with the offensive rebound basket. A rebound should be passed off before another shot goes up. This would take away the advantage of the unusually big player, cut down on fouls and make for some pretty play around the basket.
“There are more important changes to be made in college athletics,” Wooden went on. “Illegal recruiting is the bane. I know cynics question my stand, but I don’t like recruiting. That’s why I’ve stayed at UCLA for a lot less money than I could receive many other places. I can soft-sell in Los Angeles, which I couldn’t do in, say, Pullman. Wash. But I’m not in Pullman, and I would never coach there because of that.
“I say abolish all paid visits of high school players to campuses. Do not permit coaches or representatives of athletic departments to visit a youngster’s home. Do not allow sports brochures, halftime introductions for prep players. In short, stop recruiting altogether. A high school athlete can get all the information he needs through academic catalogs furnished by the school. Our universities should stand on their own merits.
“We have a good game,. but there are things like the redshirt and the freshman-eligible rules that leave us open to the pros, who then feel justified in taking away our players. Because of the money Bill Walton can command after his junior year this spring, I would never talk him out of signing with the pros. But I think it would be a mistake; I’d be very disappointed. Had Johnny Neumann or Julius Erving or Spencer Haywood or Ralph Simpson and the rest stayed in school they would be far better off today–better for their maturity, the learning of business sense, the educational values and their entire future. I’ve told Walton this. It all depends on which week I talk to him whether he thinks he will leave after this year.”
Alexander Wolff does this week’s piece on Wooden, culling interviews he’d done with Wooden in two previous stories.
In “The Coach and His Champion” (April 3, 1989, linked here), Wolff wrote about how Wooden should return to the game following the death of his wife, Nell, four years earlier. And in “Birth of a Dynasty” (March 19, 2007, linked here), it was a look back at Wooden’s first title-winning team at UCLA.
In this story, Wolff writes:
“Right from its beginnings on a farm in rural Indiana with a three-hole outhouse out back, the path of Wooden’s life alighted on touchstone after touchstone of Americana. He learned to shoot at a hoop his father had forged of iron. He gained confidence in a speech class at Martinsville High that his sweetheart (Nellie, of course) urged him to take….
“When he took a job at South Bend Central High in 1934, he regarded coaching duties as secondary to teaching English. Wooden regarded the classroom and the gym as serving essentially the same purpose. Explanation, demonstration, correction and repetition–his notion of pedagogy lent itself equally well to English grammar and fundamental basketball.”
On Sept. 9, 1994, Wolff also did a piece on Wooden (linked here) as part of the “40 For the Ages” on SI’s 40th anniversary. Wooden was at No. 16.
Part of what Wolff wrote:
“Wooden was a wizard not a saint. Uneasy with the world beyond his gym, he let a renegade booster sink fingers into the UCLA program and compromise its integrity. But those corrupting influences never broke the seal of the capsule that encased Bruin basketball for those hours each week that Wooden spent alone with his players. Although he made possible the cult of the coach, which only a decade later began turning many of the dandified men who work the sidelines into millionaires, Wooden was making only $32,500 a year when he retired in 1975. Any reservations about his decision to quit evaporated when an alumnus came up to him after his final game, in which UCLA defeated Kentucky for–what else?–an NCAA title. “Great victory, John,” the booster said. “It makes up for your letting us down last year.”
“It seems that his unmatched record is worthy of unstinting acclaim but for one thing. In spite of all the players he turned into champions, and the example he set for his profession, Wooden helped institutionalize that bane of all players and coaches, the thing that turns fans and administrators into ingrates and monsters: great, debilitating expectations.”