Monday, January 15, 2007

Wisdom from the Wizard

Another sleepless night.

Finally give up the fight and pick up a book, "They Call Me Coach," by John Wooden.

The Wizard of Westwood, they called him. Best coach of them all. Ten NCAA championships. Four undefeated seasons.

But even more than this, he's decent, in the best sense of the word. He's one of the few people in athletics truly worthy of being called a hero. Give me a year or two and I might come up with another couple of names.

Wooden portrays himself as a simple, God-fearing, optimistic, gentle soul. I don't totally buy it because no one who succeeds so brilliantly at the level he did is that basic. I suspect, as sincere as all of that stuff is, deep inside him lies a fascinating, complicated soul.

His basketball is gone, replaced by a faster, up-tempo, decidedly urban game, changed forever by a shot clock and 3-point line. There are good arguments for both styles. Some days I miss solid defense and fundamentals. Other days I like dunks and show.

Bill Walton, the most unlikely of the Wizard's stars, says what John Wooden really was, (and still is at age 93) is a teacher. He didn't talk baseketball. He talked life.

He lived by a seven point creed, corny stuff like making friendship a fine art and building shelter against a rainy day. One I like very much, though. It's first on the list.

Be true to yourself.

I've seen a lot but haven't learned all that much in my short life. One thing I do know, though. The minute you break Wooden's No. 1 commandment is the beginning of your slouch toward disaster.

I don't care if you're playing at life, basketball, work, relationships, or whatever, when you become something you aren't, you've failed. You'll be miserable. You won't win.

It takes guts to follow that piece of advice. Most don't. People conform. Go with the crowd. Sell out. Fake it. Forsake it.

That is a long, miserable road.

I admire people who know what they are and who they are -- and aren't afraid of it.

Just ask the Wizard of Westwood. He took seven simple rules for life his father gave him the day he graduated and went on to become one of the best human beings this country has ever produced. Oh, yeah, and a hell of a basketball coach, too.

And you thought nice guys finished last.

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