We could not have been more than 7 or 8 years old and we were heaving a basketball at the rim bolted to the garage of the homestead in Placentia, California while Pops shagged the misses for us.
One of our hoists unintentionally banked off the backboard and through the hoop. Though inelegant, Pops thought we had immediately grasped one of the more fundamental aspects of close-range shooting and proclaimed, "Coach Wooden would approve."
Like a bolt of lightning to our young mind that affirmation by proxy from the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins was.
One of the enduring ironies if you are familiar with the Los Angeles sports scene is this: for a culture that is so temporal and is entirely about "the next big thing", trendiness and glamour and which lacks substance of any kind, the three most iconic sports figures, Vin Scully, Chick Hearn and John Wooden were men of faith and family and who plied their respective trades for decades and who did it in a gracious and humble fashion in a land around them where grace and humility are considered completely foreign terms.
Coach Wooden passed away last night at the age of 99.
(UPDATE #1): When you go to people that speak of John Wooden, your first stop is one of his former players, Bill Walton:
“John Wooden represents the conquest of substance over hype, the triumph of achievement over erratic flailing, the conquest of discipline over gambling, and the triumph of executing an organized plan over hoping that you’ll be lucky, hot or in the zone.
“John Wooden also represents the conquest of sacrifice, hard work and commitment to achievement over the pipe dream that someone will just give you something, or that you can take a pill or turn a key to get what you want.
“The joy and happiness in Coach Wooden’s life came from the success and accomplishments of others. He never let us forget what he learned from his two favorite teachers, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa, “that a life not lived for others is not a life.”
“I thank John Wooden every day for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision and especially his faith and patience. This is why our eternal love for him will never fade away. This is why we call him ‘Coach.’”