Monday, June 7, 2010

Tribute To John Wooden

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

During the past 30 days, I've been very fortunate enough to be associated with two "Golden Treasures" whom ironically passed away after 5 PM local time on the fourth.

My close relationship with Tigers legendary broadcaster Uncle Ernie Harwell (92) has been well documented as he died on May 4 due to Bile Duct Cancer.

On Friday, June 4, UCLA legendary Coach John Wooden (99) passed away because of Natural Causes, just short of his 100 birthday on Oct 14, 2010.

When the news broke of Wooden's death, I went to my sports show case and looked at the 1991-92 UCLA Bruins Media Guide Wooden autographed for me when I went to a game at Pauley Pavilion versus the Georgia Bulldogs on Jan 4, 1992.

I'm quite sure that UCLA defeated Georgia but to tell you the truth, I didn't go there to write a game story and don't remember. Nor do I care to research the result.

I went to this game to see the championship banners that the "Wizard of Westwood" was responsible for bringing to Southern California. More importantly, I wanted to write a story on the man who was named the greatest coach in the history of team sports by The Sporting News in 2009.

For years, my father always admired Wooden and bought his book, The Wizard of Westwood.

My dream came true and I had the opportunity to interview him.

In my 20 minute halftime interview with Wooden, which was the greatest 20 minutes of my professional life, we talked about a lot of things and I never felt rushed at all. Wooden was very polite and a class act! The main subjects included Indiana Coach Bobby Knight and his Pyramid of Success.

Wooden taught me to always me to stand up for what I believe in but just don't be Bull Headed about things. He always emphasized how important it is to Keep Your Word. I took these comments to heart and mind and felt privileged to benefit from his insight and experience.

To this day, my interview with Wooden ranks as one of the best in my 31 year tenure working in Sports Media. The tape of this interview is in a nice safe place at home and I listen to it when I need encouragement. My Wheels Turn every time I read his Pyramid of Success and I often print it out to give to family and friends.

There wouldn't be enough space to document Wooden's legacy. But it took him 17-years to win his first NCAA Title at UCLA. When asked why it took him so long, he'd joke around and say, "I'm a slow learner but when I learn something, I don't forget it."

I'm exactly the same way.

How can we forget that Wooden had a record 88-game winning streak, a career record of 664-162, won seven national championships in a row, 10 titles and accomplished that in a 12 year span? He won 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament Games.

Wooden was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach. He never earned more than $35,000 a year as a coach and turned down an offer by the Los Angeles Lakers and Owner Jack Kent Cooke that could have paid him 10 times more money than he was earning as a Bruin. This showed that money couldn't buy happiness. Loyal is a word that describes Wooden real well.

But he earned his money with his books, public speaking engagements, etc.

There are so many things to admire about this man and if it weren't for a break down in communication, he could have been the "Mastermind In Minnesota" as the Golden Gophers head coach.

Once Wooden gave UCLA His Word after he thought the Gophers weren't interested in his services, he kept it to coach the Bruins.

As a result, UCLA celebrates John Wooden Day every February 29.

As I watched every single tribute on ESPN, ESPN News the night of his death, it made me proud of the fact that on one night in Los Angeles, I had a chance to sit with this icon at his seat in Westwood that anybody could only dream of meeting.

I've had the pleasure of many great memories with Los Angeles Sports Connections.

For years, former Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda and I stayed in touch. Lasorda was my first big interview.

I saw an Olympic Baseball Game at Dodger Stadium in 1984, a couple basketball games at The Forum, The Michigan Wolverines lose to the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl, a Lakers game against the Pistons at the Staples Center.

I interviewed legendary Lakers Announcer the late Chick Hearn at the Pontiac Silverdome when they faced the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

I spoke to former Dodgers Pitcher Jerry Reuss and current announcer Charley Steiner at Dodger Town in Vero Beach, Florida.

I still hope to meet the legendary Vin Scully one day, but my one meeting with Wooden against Georgia still goes down as one of the greatest memories and moments in my life.

When you factor in four Super Bowls, the 1982 Final Four in New Orleans, a pair of Indianapolis 500's, the Final Game at Tiger Stadium in 1999, an interview with Muhammad Ali, if I were to die tomorrow, I'd pass away with no regrets!

While I'm saddened that Harwell and Wooden passed very quickly, at least Wooden can rejoin his wife Nellie. Wooden never suffered at the end as Harwell did.

Yet at the end of the year, they'll go down as the biggest names to die in 2010. But now they'll be reborn in eternal life and hopefully their paths will cross in heaven.

I'm thankful that I've had great memories from both Ernie and Coach Wooden and I've learned a lot from them.

I'm sure that God will welcome these two "Golden Treasures" with open arms. They'll have plenty of stories and he'll learn a lot.

Especially from Wooden's Pyramid of Success!

I just hope that the man upstairs takes a break and doesn't add another "Golden Treasure" on July 4.

Otherwise, ESPN, ESPN News, ESPN Classic and every other media outlet will be busy which will send me into another sleepless night with more misty eyes.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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