The game of basketball brought us some of the most enduring and extraordinary friendships in the world of sports, that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his coach and mentor John Wooden, which lasted for 50 years until the death of the latter.
In his book “Coach Wooden and Me”, legendary Abdul-Jabbar reflects on the influence that Wooden had on him both on and (specially) off the court.
Here are some of my favorite Wooden’s lessons:
“Academics is more important than basketball and personal integrity is more important than both.”
It is sad to see how many coaches and leaders are still focused on making people win, not grow, especially at the grassroots level. Knowledge and values, unlike sports or sales, will be forever with us.
“Wooden saw his job as helping us find out how far we had to go to reach our best. Turned out it was farther away than any of us imagined” (Abdul-Jabbar)
The best master, coach, or leader is that who corrects you without causing resentment and who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. “When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
It is funny how differently we see the world as we get older and more experienced. This is why it becomes so important to question ideas or thoughts before embracing them.
(to high school player Swen Nater): “If you come to UCLA, you’re probably not going to play much because we have a great player (Bill Walton) in your position. But you’ll have the opportunity to play against the best center in the nation in practice every day. And I believe this will give you a better chance of becoming a professional player than if you were to go to another school”.
Being on the bench can also be the best thing that happens to us. Nater accepted and ended up having a 12-year NBA career and leading the NBA in rebounding. Let’s learn from the best even if this implies being on the bench.
“A good practice must be highly structured, scheduled to the minute, to the second, to the nanosecond”.
As Lombardi would say, practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love” (one of Wooden’s favorite quotes, from Mother Teresa)
Or as she would also say, “the only way to help heal the world is to start with your own family”
“Winning is the by-product of hard work, like a pearl is the by-product of that clam fighting off a parasite”
Teams that work hard together create the strongest bonds possible.
“As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes, but it’s just as necessary” (Abdul-Jabbar)
We all need heroes, we all need references in our lives.
“Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time”
They will like our work or they won’t. But no one will deny the effort we put into the things we’ve done through hard work. And as Wooden would say, sweat binds more than glue…
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
The more importance our society gives to the image we portray, the more we have to look inside us to understand who we truly are.