Today, October 14 is Coach John Wooden’s 99th birthday and I thought I would link up a cool article from the LA times for all my readers (basically my family and maybe 2 friends).  The article gives 99 facts about Wooden on his 99th birthday, and it is certainly inspiring.

I also thought I would relay my own personal John Wooden story.  My freshmen year at UCLA I was in the midst of my first college football season, dealing with the pressures and excitement of actually playing but also the difficulties and frustrations of being an 18 year old, 235lb fullback (for the non-football readers, that’s a pretty small fullback if you aren’t 21 or 22 and super strong).  I was away from my family which wasn’t easy but I was blessed by having my folks come down to a couple games and meeting them up in the Northwest for a couple games.  Anyway, I was far from home, learning new things, living my dream and being blessed to do so.  One of the new friends I made was a Bay Area based quarterback named Brian.  He had played his high school ball at De La Salle high School in Concord and was blessed to play with many great players (one of whom, Maurice Jones-Drew, ended up playing with us at UCLA the next year).  Brian was also privy to be the son of then-Oakland-Raiders-head-coach Bill Callahan (these were the good years when they went to the super bowl).

Brian’s dad had had the opportunity to spend some time with Coach Wooden and was so impressed by the man that he set up a meeting for his son with the coach at the coach’s own home.  Brian, being the nice guy and incredible friend that he was, decided to invite me and an older receiver, Tab Perry and the three of us spent a fall Sunday afternoon at coach Wooden’s.  We arrived at his place and one could immediately see that it was completetly filled with various awards.  It was to the point that his house almost looked messy because he was the recipient of so many awards.

The afternoon was full of Coach Wooden, hearing stories about coaching Alcindor (Kareem) and Walton, about the many conference championships, about the National Championships and mostly about his wife.  I think the impression I was most left with was the incredible love he and his wife shared.  Even after her death he would write her a letter every week (I would bet he probably still does).  This is a man who is deeply in love with his wife.  He also is a man who practically lives a life of faith in God.  He shared about his weekly church attendance and showed us all the message bulletins he had saved, he also told us about a Christian book he was co-authoring where he would share some meditations and the other guy also tied them in spiritually as well.  I remember leaving and feeling incredibly inspired and blessed, knowing that this was one of those rare momemts in my life I could never forget.

I also remember my sophomore year, when we were preparing for our bowl game and one of only a few hundred people still at campus.  They were dedicating the court at the opening of the 2003/2004 season against a good Michigan State team.  Our whole team was at the game to see the court dedicated and so were probably hundreds of former Wooden players.  All the greats (the aforementioned Walton and Abdul-Jabar included) came out to support their coach and see UCLA’s court receive it’s proper name; even Magic Johnson, though he never played for coach Wooden, came out and supported.  Again, in the court’s naming (it’s the “Nell and John Wooden Court”) everyone can plainly see this humble, great man’s great love for his wife.  The night was also a testament to Wooden’s powerful and lasting influence in the lives of so many.

So Happy Birthday, Coach Wooden.  I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I, unlike so many countless others, cannot forget you and the incredible mark of your life and character.  Here’s to you.