John Wooden was born on October 14, 1910, in Martinsville, Indiana, the second of four brothers. Coach Wooden’s father, Joshua, instilled in his sons the basic principles of honesty, hard work and respect for others—the elements that make up the Pyramid of Success. He also passed along to them a love for reading, especially the Bible and poetry.
Wooden was the star of the Martinsville High School basketball team, leading the team to the Indiana state championship in 1927. Two other years his team was the runner-up, and three times Wooden was named to the all-state team. At Purdue University, the five-foot-ten guard was a three-time All-American, but he is most proud of being an Academic All-American. In 1932, he scored about a third of his team’s points, led the Boilermakers to the national championship and was named the Helms Athletic Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year.
An English major and academic achievement honoree, Wooden was wooed by New York publishing companies that wanted him to be their Midwestern representative. He, instead, opted for teaching, taking a post at Dayton High School in Kentucky. At Dayton, he coached the basketball and baseball teams for two years. Next stop for the man who would become a basketball legend was Central High School in South Bend, Indiana, where he coached from 1934 to 1943.
World War II interrupted Wooden’s basketball career. As an enlistee he served in the United States Navy for three years, achieving the rank of lieutenant.
Not long after the Japanese surrendered to General MacArthur and World War II ended, Wooden accepted a post as basketball coach, baseball coach and athletic director at Indiana State University. In two seasons, his Sycamore teams went 47-14 and reached the NAIA finals.
In 1948, Wooden went west to UCLA. While his early Bruin teams did well, the success of his later teams earned him a place at the top of the all-time list of coaching greats. Over twenty-seven seasons, the Bruins went 620-147 and won a record ten national championships, including seven in a row. Four times his teams went undefeated during an entire season, and at one point, they won a record eighty-eight consecutive games.
Many all-time greats filled the rosters of Wooden’s UCLA squads. Perhaps the best known are the two centers, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. But there were other All-Americans, including Walt Hazzard, Lucius Allen, Mike Warren, Gail Goodrich, Keith Erickson, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, Henry Bibby, Keith Wilkes, Richard Washington, Marques Johnson and Dave Meyers. Wooden retired in 1975, having achieved an unmatched forty-year career-winning percentage of over .800, making him one of the winningest coaches ever.
Named NCAA Coach of the Year six times, Wooden has also been honored by Sports Illustrated (Sportsman of the Year and 40 for the Ages), the Sporting News (Sportsman of the Year) and ESPN (Century’s Greatest). In 1961, Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player; in 1973 he entered as a coach—one of only two people to ever receive the double honor. Today, the national college basketball player of the year receives the John R. Wooden Award, presented annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
As a teacher of life’s most important lessons, he excelled, using his Pyramid of Success as a model. He told his story and expounded upon his principles in several other books including Practical Modern Basketball, They Call Me Coach (with Jack Tobin), Wooden (with Steve Jamison), Inch and Miles (with Steve Jamison), My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey (with Steve Jami- son) and Coach Wooden One-on-One (with Jay Carty).
Wooden was married to his high school sweetheart, Nell, for fifty-three years. She passed away on March 21, 1985. John and Nell Wooden had two children, James Hugh and Nancy Anne.
Wooden had seven grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. He passed away peacefully on June 4, 2010, at the age of 99.
- Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by Coach John Wooden.
- Coach Woodens Pyramid Of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life
- John Wooden: They Called Him Coach – YouTube