Former UCLA head coach and legend John Wooden was honored at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon for nearly 100 years of life that impacted tens of thousands of people, both sports fans and otherwise. Despite direct competition with the US-Ghana World Cup match and the Bruin baseball team’s victory to get to the championship of the College World Series, approximately 4,000 people including Jerry West, Marques Johnson, Derek Jeter, Al Michaels, Bill Walton, Joe Torre, Antonio Villaraigosa, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and many others paid tribute to the man’s life and teachings during a 90-minute ceremony. Wooden died nearly a month ago in Los Angeles at the age of 99.
Former UCLA forward Jamaal Wilkes used his time at the podium to describe Coach Wooden as “one in a billion as a coach, mentor, and friend.” The only beef we may have with that statement is that Wilkes may have sold the legendary Wooden short by a few billion. Another UCLA forward, John Ecker, related a story about how Wooden needled him well into his 90s about whether he was loved, another valuable insight into the brilliance and cognitive abilities of the man. Throughout the last month, we’ve learned an awful lot about Wooden as a man — we were already well aware of his records and accomplishments as a coach — but we hesitated to try to put into words our feelings for him because it felt awkward. Nevertheless, we know enough to know that it’s very difficult to find people on this earth who nobody has anything negative to say about his character, and Wooden appears to be one of those few. We’re only sorry that we didn’t get a chance to meet him while he was here. RIP, Coach.