So if you had to vote on who was the greatest basketball coach of all time between John Wooden and Bob Knight, who would you choose?
Yes, Knight is the all-time leader in major college coaching victories (902), with 662 wins and three national titles coming at Indiana, but when it comes to long-term excellence and dominance, it would be hard to pick anyone besides Wooden, who died at 99 on Friday.
You could mention Wooden’s 10 national championships (no one else is close) or the 88-game winning streak or the words of wisdom -– highlighted by his “pyramid of success” –- that separate him from all the rest.
Here’s how dominant Wooden was. In his final 12 years, ending with the 1975 national championship, his teams were 330-19, including four 30-0 seasons, and those 10 national titles. He finished with 620 wins in 27 seasons.
He won with a full-court pressing, uptempo style that attracted superstar players such as Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. He demanded extreme fitness to handle that style. He had three etched-in-stone rules -– don’t be late, don’t swear, don’t criticize teammates.
Unlike the colorful Knight, Wooden didn’t swear, although he, like Knight, had no trouble chewing on officials. He would say things such as, “Dadbum it, you saw him double dribble” or “Goodness gracious sakes alive.”
Scary stuff, isn’t it?
Wooden’s “pyramid of success” included enthusiasm, industriousness, patience, faith, loyalty and self control. At the top was competitive greatness.
He would tell players to “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Wooden, by the way, was an imposing player good enough to help lead Purdue to the 1932 national championship. Look at pictures of him in his prime. He was a powerful-looking athlete during an era when almost nobody lifted weights. He was named college player of the year as a senior.
Oh, yes. He also led Martinsville to the Indiana state title in 1927.
In the end, though, Wooden will forever be remembered as a coach’s coach, a teacher gracious with his time, and a man still in love with his wife of 53 years, Nell, his childhood sweetheart, 25 years after her death.
He had many sayings, but here are two that will be true as long as humans exist:
*“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”
*“Don’t give up on your dreams or your dreams will give up on you.”
Dadbum it, that is good stuff.