On Friday, June 4th, UCLA's, College Basketball's--and possibly athletic's--greatest coach, John Wooden, passed away. Not just Southern California, but America felt his passing.
Why do I feel compelled to write about him at On Violence (aside from the fact that I went to UCLA)?
Any Bruin alum can tell you the impact of Wooden's legacy. The line to get his autograph was always full, either at the bookstore signing books or before college Basketball games. His picture adorns program, buildings and memorabilia. He built the athletic tradition at UCLA. Even though I never really met him, I still feel his loss like the entire community of Bruins.
More than anything, Wooden was a leader. I think every sports commentator has said this: on and off the court he embodied character. It doesn't make it less true.
He won 10 national championships, seven in a row. He won 88 straight games. Despite retiring thirty five years ago, John Wooden kept working. He published books on leadership and basketball. Wooden on Leadership has better stuff in two pages than the entire Army FM on leadership. His "Pyramid of Success" adorns classrooms, boardrooms and bedrooms around America, inspiring new generations.
And he was also by every single account a man of character. No one speaks ill of him, no one.
And I bring all this up because despite all the accolades we in America give our servicemembers, I don't think any General or Admiral of the contemporary age comes even close to this. In the World War II generation we had several generals who earned respect on a John Wooden level: Marshall, Bradley, perhaps Patton. General Petraeus is our most famous general, but will he stand out in thirty years the John Wooden has? Our Army loves "values," be they the Warrior Ethos or the Army values. Wooden created leadership through character, do our current Generals and Admirals have that character?
Maybe a comparison between the Army and Men's college basketball is unfair, but leadership is leadership, and sports is probably the closest field to war short of combat. Wooden is important to me because he was first and foremost a leader. A leader we should all emulate.
Post Script: Oh and he was also immensely quotable, so check these quotes out (they are all correctly sourced to John Wooden). And check out his website, pretty good design quality and a wealth of information.