Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on John Wooden:
Mr. Wooden had an eye and mind that saw the game as if from above. He would drill us fiercely and expect dedication; he accepted no less. Dressed like his players in T-shirt, shorts, sweat socks and sneakers, with his jacket that read “Coach” on the back and a whistle around his neck, he would find our errors, our indecisions, and correct them. He never rode people; he treated everyone the same and displayed no favoritism, but you didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. When he’d get mad he’d say “Gracious sakes alive!” and it instilled more fear than any other coach’s tirade of obscenities. “That is not the way to do it,” he would say forcefully, and whoever had screwed up would stand there as if he’d been slapped.
Mr. Wooden taught self-discipline and was his own best example. His awareness of what was happening in all parts of the game was very acute, but his demeanor was always contained, as if by ordering himself he was controlling all elements. His philosophy, he showed us, was that if you needed emotion to make you perform than sooner or later you’d be vulnerable, an emotional wreck, and then nonfunctional. He preferred thorough preparation over the need to rise to an occasion. Let others try to rise to a level we had already attained; we would be there to begin with. He would smile and be happy when we won, but I never saw him truly exultant; about the only overt expression he would allow himself was the tight twisting of his program, rolled not so much into a weapon as into a handle on the situation.
- from "Giant Steps," the autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
I don't want to make too much of this, but I don't want to make too little of it either. When you read something like this from a man like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you can really appreciate the greatness of John Wooden as a coach. There were things that Wooden did - particularly with the treatment of some players - that Abdul-Jabbar was not always comfortable with. Not Wooden's treatment of those players, but his expectations for them, which Abdul-Jabbar felt did not always take into consideration the personal situations and life experience of those players.
But when you read passages like this, there is but one word that comes to mind: respect. There is little doubt that, even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had very little in common with John Wooden outside of the basketball arena, he had the utmost respect for Wooden as a coach, and as a man. And respect, it seems to me, is by far the most important attribute that a coach in any sport can garner from those under his/her charge.