Tribute to John Wooden

Jackie Robinson’s epitaph is “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” I cannot think of a better way to express what John Wooden meant to the world. The man considered a saint as a human being first, a great basketball coach second, passed away yesterday at the age of 99. I’m enjoying all of the tributes from those who had the privilege to know and meet John Wooden. I never did, yet, I woke up today with a hole in my heart after learning of his death. It’s not often that we can feel a sense of loss for a person we never knew. We may connect with someone by watching them perform music, theatre, film, sports. I only saw John Wooden coach in the twilight of his career. My connection came rather from a kind gesture from a colleague on March 25, 2003. On that day I was in Cleveland, interviewing 18 year old high school All-American LeBron James for the very first time. After the interview, Bob Geoghan, a promoter of the event LeBron was participating in, told me he was going to see John Wooden in Los Angeles. I mentioned that I was an admirer of his teachings, especially the “Pyramid of Success.” Geoghan said John would be willing to autography a copy for me. Two weeks later, I received a package in the mail. In it, were an autographed picture, Pyramid of Success, and a small wallet card of Wooden’s favorite maxims. Everything was inscribed  “For Joe Schreiber, Best wishes, John Wooden.” You see, autographs only mean something to me when I have a relationship with that person. Yet here is someone I never knew, but who then at the age of 93, cared deeply about reaching out as a “life coach.”

Not a day goes by when I don’t read one of his homespun maxims (from his dad) like “Make each day your masterpiece,” or “What is right is more important than who is right.”  I carried that card in my wallet and framed the Pyramid of Success for my office. I felt a personal connection to the greatest basketball coach of all-time. As a kid born in Brooklyn, NY, I thank my parents for raising me with good values. I also thank John Wooden for the humble small town midwestern values he brought to me. My late father’s  lasting impact on me was as a loyal husband and father. John Wooden honored his late wife Nellie every day after her passing in 1985. We live in tumultuous times, and it’s the values and principles that John Wooden teaches that gives us an anchor, an ability to stay centered, should we choose to live by his teachings.

It wasn’t until today that I learned that John Wooden and my dad shared the same birthday, October 14. Today I received this text from my son Matthew, “Anyway to get a framed copy of the Wooden pyramid? I never realized how amazing of a hero he is.” My response: “There’s an autographed one in my office, I’m giving it to you.”