John Robert Wooden is the first man in history to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
Born in Hall, Indiana on this date in 1910, he was one of six children raised in a farmhouse that had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. His two sisters died before reaching two years of age and the four remaining Wooden boys learned to play basketball in the barn. Despite their strong work ethic, the family went bankrupt, lost their farm and moved to Martinsville—a small town about 30 minutes south of Indianapolis—in 1924. Wooden attended Martinsville High School and was named All-State as a sophomore, junior and senior. He led the Artesians to the state title game his junior and senior years, losing to Marion as an 11th grader and beating Muncie as a senior. Wooden enrolled at Purdue University in the autumn of 1928 to play for legendary coach Ward “Piggy” Lambert and emerged as a three-time All-American guard. In 1932, he was named National Player of the Year while leading the Boilermakers to the only national basketball championship in school history and, in the spring, graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in English. He took a job teaching English at Dayton High School in Dayton, Kentucky and coached the basketball team to a 6-11 record—the only losing record he would have in 40 years. Wooden moved back to Indiana in 1934 to teach English and coach tennis, baseball and basketball at South Bend Central High School while developing the concepts for his “Pyramid for Success”, a 15-point teaching model aimed at inspiring his students and athletes to maximize their potential. During this time, Wooden earned extra money playing for the Indianapolis Kautskys and Whiting Ciesar All Americans of the National Basketball League, leading that circuit in scoring in 1933 and being named a first-team NBL All-Star in 1938. He left South Bend to become a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving from 1943-46. Upon his discharge, he coached baseball, basketball and served as athletics director at Indiana State Teachers College [now Indiana State] while also teaching English and completing his master’s degree in Education. He coached the Sycamores to back-to-back Indiana Intercollegiate Conference titles and compiled a 44-15 record in his two seasons in Terre Haute.
In 1948, John Wooden was hired as the fourth basketball coach in UCLA history, signing a three year contract with a first year’s salary of $ 6,000. He had intended on accepting the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota but inclement weather prevented Wooden from receiving the phone call from the Golden Gophers offering him the job. When UM’s call finally did come through, Wooden declined the offer because he had already given UCLA his word. Prior to his arrival, UCLA had won two conference titles in 18 years and had gone 12-13 the previous season. Wooden had immediate success, going 22-7 while winning the Pacific Coast Conference championship. The next year, the Bruins went 24-7 in route to another PCC title, the first of four in a row, despite having to share space in their practice gym with the gymnastics and wrestling teams. In 1963-64, UCLA went 30-0 and won the school’s first national championship despite having no starters taller than 6’5”. John Wooden was named National Coach of the Year and the Bruins successfully defended their title the following year. UCLA basketball was on the rise in Los Angeles and, at Wooden’ s urging, a brand new arena was built on campus to replace the 1,500-seat Men’s Gym. Pauley Pavilion hosted its first game in 1965, a scrimmage between the defending-national champion and pre-season number 1-ranked UCLA varsity team and the Bruins freshman [ineligible to play varsity in those days], who were led by Lew Alcindor. The freshman won 75-60 while providing a glimpse into the future. 1966-67 was Lew Alcindor’s sophomore year and marked the beginning of the most dominant run in college basketball history, as UCLA would reel off the first of seven consecutive NCAA titles. Alcindor’s teams were 88-2 during his three varsity seasons and Wooden went 57-3 in the two seasons following his departure. Sophomore Bill Walton arrived on the scene and led the Bruins to the only back-to-back undefeated seasons in college basketball history in 1972 and ’73. The Bruins lost to Notre Dame in January of 1971 and would not lose again until the Irish beat them in January of 1974—a streak of 88 straight games—still the longest in men’s college basketball history. UCLA saw another streak end in 1974 when they failed to win the national championship for the first time since the 1963 season. Coach Wooden returned with a vengeance in 1974-75, his 27th year in Westwood, and guided the Bruins to a 28-3 record and a 92-85 victory over Kentucky in the NCAA championship game. It was his 10th title in the past 12 years and he quietly retired following the game.
John Wooden coached high school basketball for 11 years and compiled a record of 218-42. He coached two years at Indiana State and was 44-15 while his UCLA teams were 620-147 [.808 winning percentage]. Four of his UCLA squads were undefeated, a feat that has not been accomplished in college basketball since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976. “The Wizard of Westwood” was voted NCAA Coach of the Year seven times, was Sports Illustrated’ s “Sportsman of the Year” in 1972 and won 21 conference titles in 27 seasons of college coaching. He holds the longest winning streak in men’s college basketball history and three of the top 8. In 1947, he scored a double eagle and hole in one in the same round of golf, one of four people ever to accomplish that feat. Mr. Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1960 and as a coach in 1973. He is a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and created a dynasty at UCLA against which all others are measured. Since 1977, the John R. Wooden Award has been given to college basketball’s player of the year and the top honor for the McDonald’s All-American high school basketball game is named the John R. Wooden Most Valuable Player Award. In May of 2003, John Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
John Wooden was named The Sporting News “Greatest Coach of All Time” in 2009. Vince Lombard and Paul “Bear” Bryant finished second and third, respectively.