Advancing Religious Liberty
6/8/10 at 10:33 AM 0 Comments

John Wooden’s Last Lesson for Us All

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Author: ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker

John Wooden, the legendary coach and "Wizard of Westwood," passed away this weekend, just 4 months shy of his 100th birthday.   ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and the UCLA Athletics website, among countless other media outlets, have put together stunning tributes to this man and his life.  But there is one thing that they are missing.

Yes, John Wooden grew up poor on a farm in Indiana without electricity or running water, and was a basketball star in high school and at Purdue.   Yes, John Wooden coached UCLA's basketball team for 27 years, resulting in an unprecedented ten national championships, seven of them in consecutive years.  Yes, he was arguably the greatest basketball coach-some would say coach, period-in sports history.  And yes, he was a nice guy, too.   

But "Coach," as he liked to be called-he hated that "Wizard" nickname-is probably a bit embarrassed by all this.  As the secular news media focuses on his worldly achievements, his good deeds, and his personality, the really special thing about John Wooden is that in spite of all that, he knew what true success is, and he knew who he really was-a sinner saved by the grace of God:

...I always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of a life that truly wins, and that is one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because he knows what we really are and that is all that matters.

Even though the world admires John Wooden because he was a good coach and a "good person," he cared only about what matters eternally.  From his devoted love for his wife, Nellie, to his insistence on teaching his players more than just the game of basketball, from his ability to live what he taught, to the Bible he kept on his desk at UCLA, and the cross he kept in his pocket-even after all those winning games-the things that made John Wooden unique to much of the world are the things that flow naturally from a heart devoted to the Lord.  This man-whose last swear word was uttered at the age of 14-was truly counter-cultural in that he had his years of greatest success during one of the most turbulent periods in history in our colleges and universities, and that his influence continued unabated, long after traditional morality and many of the values he taught fell out of fashion at most universities, including UCLA.

Make no mistake-though the tributes gloss over his faith, or simply refer to him as "devout" or "deeply religious"-John Wooden would not have been the man he was without Jesus Christ and his redeeming love.  And he wanted the world to know it, too.  As he said, "If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me."

I think you are guilty as charged, Coach.  While the world reflects on the great achievements of this man, as Christians, we should instead reflect on whether the same could be said for us.

This post originally appeared here.

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