They don't make them like John Wooden anymore. A great coach and an even better human being.
John Wooden, a staid Midwesterner who migrated to U.C.L.A. and became college basketball’s most successful coach, earning the nickname the Wizard of Westwood and an enduring place in sports history, died Friday at Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26. He was 99.Jabbar, then Alcindor, grew up not far from me, albeit a decade or so before me, and many questioned his original decision to head west rather than play on the east coast. After a couple of years nobody questioned it any longer.
The university said Wooden died of natural causes. .
Wooden created a sports dynasty against which all others are compared, and usually pale. His teams at U.C.L.A. won 10 national championships in a 12-season stretch from 1964 to 1975. From 1971 to 1974, U.C.L.A. won 88 consecutive games, still the N.C.A.A. record.
Four of Wooden’s teams finished with 30-0 records, including his first championship team, which featured no starters taller than 6 feet 5 inches.
Three of his other championship teams were anchored by the 7-foot-2 center Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Two others were led by center Bill Walton, a three-time national player of the year.
Wooden retired after U.C.L.A.’s 1975 championship victory over Kentucky. A slight man hugely popular for his winning record and his understated approach, he ultimately became viewed as a kind of sage for both basketball and life, a symbol of both excellence and simpler times.
Even in retirement he remained a beloved figure and a constant presence at U.C.L.A., watching most games from a seat behind the home bench at Pauley Pavilion. Lines of well-wishers and autograph-seekers often snaked their way to his seat in Section 103B. Wooden always obliged his fans, until the university and his family requested that he be granted privacy in January 2008, when he was 97.
A dynasty like Wooden’s would be almost impossible now, because the best college players seldom spend more than a year or two in school before turning professional. No N.C.A.A. men’s basketball coach has won more than four championships since Wooden retired. Of Wooden’s eight coaching successors at U.C.L.A., only one — Jim Harrick in 1995 — won an N.C.A.A. championship with the Bruins, who have managed to retain an air of the elite among basketball programs largely on Wooden’s legacy.