This may seem out of place right now (and it not very timely)...it's a piece I wrote for work and ended up not being able to use. I figured I might as well make some use of it!
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
– A sign hanging on the wall in the office of John Wooden
The notion that John Wooden (1910-2010) was a great basketball coach – in all likelihood, the greatest in the history of the game – is an established fact; it does not need my support. But John Wooden was more, much more, than just a great basketball coach. John Wooden was a great teacher. And the lessons he taught went far beyond the narrow confines of basketball courts and sports arenas.
To appreciate the ability of John Wooden as a teacher, all you have to do is read the words of his students. And there is little doubt that John Wooden’s two greatest students were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who in college was known as Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton. NCAA champions; NBA champions; Most Valuable Players at both the college and professional levels – Abdul-Jabbar and Walton represented the very best that the game of basketball had to offer. But they both recognized that their accomplishments could not have been achieved had it not been for their teacher.
In his autobiography Giant Steps, Abdul-Jabbar described the teaching methods of Coach Wooden:
Mr. Wooden would drill us fiercely and expect dedication; he accepted no less. 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.
In a tribute that was published upon Coach Wooden’s passing, Bill Walton described his teacher in the following manner:
Coach Wooden taught by example. He never asked or expected anyone to do anything that he hadn’t already done himself. He gave us the ability to learn how to learn, and to compete. His keen knowledge and foresight to always be about what’s next, always about the future, enabled him to lead an incredibly active, constructive, positive and contributing life.
The stage on which John Wooden played out his life was much larger than that which the teachers in our local districts conduct their work. But just as Coach Wooden (who, by the way, earned a Masters Degree in Education) instilled a passion for life-long learning in his players and students, the teachers in our local schools are doing the very same thing on a day-to-day basis. They may not end up on the cover of national magazines or make the evening news, but they are genuine heroes, just as much as John Wooden was a hero.