News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

November 30, 2008

The Off Season: ‘More precious than rubies…’

I believe that John Wooden has read the Book of Proverbs, for reading the Bible is part of the old coach’s daily walk through the world.

He certainly has been through the passage in the eighth chapter that reads: “For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare to her.”

At 98, he lives alone in a cramped Encino, Calif., apartment. He has creaky knees, never made more money in a year coaching college basketball than a beginning teacher makes now, and still mourns a wife who died more than 20 years ago.

Obviously, that résumé hardly defines Wooden, but in the fast-paced universe of big-time college hoops, with its white-light glamour and inflated salaries, the old coach’s legacy appears to many to be antiquated and hopelessly bland.

On the other hand, I am far from the only person who believes that Wooden may be one of the wisest men alive, a mountaintop-like sage of common sense and good will dressed in a cardigan sweater and double-knit pants. Indiana State University recently and aptly named its home basketball floor after Wooden and his late wife, Nell, and with that story making our front page, a flood of good memories about him came back to me.

Few people are privileged to meet their heroes; I’ve met mine twice. I saw Wooden for the first time in April 1987. He had come to Terre Haute to speak at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner at Hulman Center. When we heard that Wooden was coming to town, my buddy, Joe, and I, both coaching at the time, decided we’d be in the audience to hear him.

After his time at the podium was over, Wooden was ushered off a dais and into the subterranean hallways that constitute Hulman Center’s bowels. As others grabbed their coats or polished off the last of their dinner drinks, Joe and I walked away from the crowded floor and down one of those hallways hoping to meet the coach face-to-face. We did.

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