Friday, January 31, 2014

Wooden: A Coach's Life - by Seth Davis - a Review

Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis  (2014) is an amazing book for those interested in John Wooden, UCLA’s former men’s basketball coach.

It shares a tremendous amount of detail describing the 99 year life of (probably) the most significant men’s college basketball coach of all time.    Winning the NCAA Men’s Championship ten times in the last 12 years of his career (for example,)was an amazing feat!

What makes this book worth reading are not the facts and data which are certainly interesting.    What is fascinating is trying to understand the total person that John Wooden was with both his strengths and his flaws. 
John Wooden regularly attempted to intimidate and harass opposing players as well as the referees in his games.   This was rather inconsistent with his public image as a polite, proper church-going man who didn’t smoke or drink.

While Wooden’s actions regularly showed that he was anti-racist (including during the 1940’s and 1950’s when blatantly racist actions were common), he consistently avoided using his influence to confront racist actions by others.   

During his coaching career he was hardly approachable by his players.  His emotional distance alienated a significant number of them.  John Wooden also lied about some of his achievements (such as saying multiple times that he’d never had a losing season as a coach).  Some of his public statements made it more difficult for those who succeeded him at UCLA in surviving trying to replace “The Legend”.

Some of the weaker sides of John Wooden helped alienated him from peer coaches as well as various basketball players.   At the same time he was a great teacher for most of his players both for basketball and for life beyond their basketball careers.

John Wooden mellowed as he got older.   After he retired gradually more and more of his former players began enjoying time with him.  Some healed their hurt feelings.    After struggling with the death of his wife in the mid-80’s he seemed to flourish and appreciate significant parts of his later years.   He was an avid reader and poet.   Wooden touched the lives of many.

John Wooden was an amazing person.   While I no longer see him as singularly positive, I can still appreciate what he gave to his world.

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