Coach John Wooden Dies
The basketball legend and beloved family man died Friday at age 99.
John Wooden, the beloved UCLA coach and sports legend, died Friday at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. He was 99.
Wooden was hospitalized May 26 due to dehydration, but the university said the hall of fame basketball coach died of natural causes.
“We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father,” children Nan and Jim Wooden said in a statement released by UCLA.
Wooden, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday October 14, was a devoted father and husband for decades and a man of devout faith.
When his wife Nellie died after a struggle with cancer and 53 years of marriage, he turned to the Bible for hope and inspiration, and he began visiting Nellie’s grave to write her monthly love letters — a ritual that lasted until his death.
“Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish,” Nan and Jim said. “The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten.”
“We will miss him more than words can express.”
Dubbed the “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins for 27 years, leading the team to 10 NCAA titles, including an unprecedented seven in a row from 1967 to his final season in 1975.
In that time, Wooden coached some of basketball’s most legendary figures — Lew Alcindor, who would later become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich and Bill Walton to name a few — smashing records and earning an unparalleled place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man,” said Abdul-Jabbar in a statement. “He just used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation.”
“He set quite an example.”
In fact, Wooden was an example of excellence on the court as well — one of just two basketball figures to be inducted to the hall of fame as a coach and as a player.
Wooden lead the Purdue Boilermakers to the 1932 National Championship, and was the first player ever named a three-time consensus All-American.
Wooden enlisted in the Navy in 1942, where he achieved the rank of lieutenant during World War II, before beginning his collegiate coaching career at Indiana State for two years.
In 1947, Wooden’s team received an invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball national tournament, which Wooden rejected, citing the NAIB’s ban on black athletes and standing up for an African-American player on his team.
In 1948, the NAIB reversed its ban, and Wooden accepted the invitation.
His next three decades at UCLA marked the peak of his career — and perhaps that of basketball as well — winning 620 games, including an incredible 88 wins in a row.
“Coach Wooden’s name is synonymous with excellence, and deservedly so,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was one of the great leaders — in any profession — of his generation.”
After retiring, Wooden still made a point of attending as many UCLA basketball games as he could, right up through this past 2010 season.
Wooden is survived by two children, Nan and Jim Wooden, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren — one of whom now plays for UCLA.
The family has asked that any donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or another charity of choice.
A public memorial service for Wooden has not yet been scheduled.