Part I Families, Values, Virtues
I am just a common man who is true to his beliefs. —John Wooden
My Roots Go Deep in America
I was born on a Friday morning in a little place called Hall, Indiana. It was just after the turn of the twentieth century—October 14, 1910.
Dad and Mother raised my three brothers and me on a small farm in the south-central part of the state, until hard times forced our family to move into the nearby town of Martinsville.
What I learned back there during those early years in Indiana—the training I got from my father and mother— has stayed with me all my life. That training started with the kind of people my parents were.
Nothing Is Stronger than Gentleness
My dad, Joshua Wooden, was a strong man in one sense, but a gentle man. While he could lift heavy things men half his age couldn't lift, he would also read poetry to us each night after a day working in the fields raising corn, hay, wheat, tomatoes, and watermelons.
We had a team of mules named Jack and Kate on our farm. Kate would often get stubborn and lie down on me when I was plowing. I couldn't get her up no matter how roughly I treated her. Dad would see my predicament and walk across the field until he was close enough to say "Kate." Then she'd get up and start working again. He never touched her in anger.
It took me a long time to understand that even a stubborn mule responds to gentleness.
My Mother's Great Example
My mother, Roxie Anna, had a hard life living and working and raising a family in our little white farmhouse outside Martinsville. She did the washing, scrubbing, ironing, cooking, mending, and canning with no electricity and no inside plumbing. She did it all herself without any modern conveniences while helping with the farming and bringing up four rambunctious young sons: Maurice, me, Daniel, and William.
At night, during the heat of the Indiana harvest season, Mother would offer us cool slices of watermelon as we sat out on our front porch looking up into the stars.
She gave me my first "basketball," a wobbly thing sewed together using rolled-up rags she had stuffed into some black cotton hose. Dad nailed an old tomato basket with the bottom knocked out to one end of the hayloft in the barn. That's how I got started playing the game of basketball.
Each day my mother demonstrated great patience and the ability and eagerness to work very hard without complaint.
I learned from her what hard work really means and that it's part of life. Hard work comes with the territory. She always knew what had to be done and she did it.
Mother provided a model for how to do my job regardless of the particular circumstances.
The Real Coaches and Teachers
A father and mother must be there to set an example for their children, strong and positive models of what to be and how to behave when the youngsters grow up.
Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating. Youngsters need good models more than they need critics. It is one of a parent's greatest responsibilities and opportunities.
Too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.
My father had great inner strength. He was strong in his moral principles, values, and ideals, and like any good father he wanted to instill them in his four sons.
He did that in the manner by which he lived his life.
Life's Game Plan Starts Early
Dad was one of the wisest people I have ever known, in spite of the fact that both he and Mother had only high-school educations. My father created a desire in us to learn to read (including some of the Bible every day). He was a very religious man without being overt about it. Like Mother, he believed in hard work.
He was a good man, strong and positive, who wouldn't speak ill of anyone. Dad was quiet, but when he did say something, he said something.
He was the kind of man I set out to be. He was the model.
Two Sets of Threes
My father had what he called his "two sets of threes." They were direct and simple rules aimed at how he felt we should conduct ourselves in life. The first set was about honesty:
It required no explanation. My brothers and I knew what it meant and that he expected us to abide by it.
The second set of threes was about dealing with adversity:
Don't make excuses.
Some people today may think these are naive or kind of corny. But think a moment about what they mean and who you become if you abide by them. That isn't naive. You don't become corny.
Dad's two sets of threes were a compass for me in trying to do the right thing and behaving in a proper manner.
Pride or Punishment
Joshua Wooden was a disciplinarian, but not from a physical point of view. I'd almost rather have taken a whipping than hear him say he was disappointed in something I'd done.
I wanted to please him and not let him down with my behavior. It wasn't a fear of punishment that motivated me. It was my desire to live up to his model and expectations.
Later, as a teacher, I wanted those under my own supervision to be motivated in the same way, to strive to be their best because I believed in them rather than from any fear of punishment.
The Gift of a Lifetime
When I graduated from our little three-room grade school in Centerton, Indiana, I got dressed up in clean overalls for the big event. For my graduation present Dad gave me an old, wrinkled two-dollar bill that he probably had been hanging onto for some time.
He said, "Johnny, as long as you have this you'll never be broke," and he was pretty close to right. Eventually I gave it to my own son Jim.
Dad also gave me something that day that would shape my entire life: my work, my marriage, my goals, my entire philosophy. It was a card on which he had written a few guidelines. I still carry it with me. On one side was this verse by the Reverend Henry Van Dyke:
Four things a man must learn to do If he would make his life more true: To think without confusion clearly, To love his fellow-man sincerely, To act from honest motives purely, To trust in God and Heaven securely.
The little verse was straightforward but profound: think clearly, have love in your heart, be honest, and trust in God.
On the other side of the paper, Dad had written out his creed. At the top of the paper, it said "Seven Things to Do." It read as follows:
1. Be true to yourself.
2. Help others.
3. Make each day your masterpiece.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.
All he said when he gave me the little note he had written was, "Son, try and live up to these things."
I wish I could say I have lived up to them. I have tried. Over the years, as I've attempted to follow his creed, I've gained a deeper understanding of it. Let me share what it means to me after all these years.
Be True to Yourself
If we are not true to ourselves, we cannot be true to others—our wife or husband, our family, our profession and colleagues.
As Polonius said to his son Laertes in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
This is so true, and I believe it is the first point in Dad's creed for a reason. You must know who you are and be true to who you are if you are going to be who you can and should become.
You must have the courage to be true to yourself.
Oh, the great joy there is in helping others, perhaps the greatest joy! You cannot have a perfect day without helping others with no thought of getting something in return. When we are helping others with the thought of getting something back, it's not the same at all.
Sharing and giving of yourself is joyous. James Russell Lowell wrote:
It's not what we give but what we share, For the gift without the giver is bare. Who gives of himself of his alms feeds three, Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.
The basic precept of all the great religions is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simply stated, it means, "Help others."
Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." We say those words, but how often do we really believe them? They are always true.
You can never acquire happiness without giving of yourself to someone else without the expectation of getting something back.
When it comes to giving, I remind myself what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself."
Make Each Day Your Masterpiece
When I was teaching basketball, I urged my players to try their hardest to improve on that very day, to make that practice a masterpiece.
Too often we get distracted by what is outside our control. You can't do anything about yesterday. The door to the past has been shut and the key thrown away. You can do nothing about tomorrow. It is yet to come. However, tomorrow is in large part determined by what you do today. So make today a masterpiece. You have control over that.
This rule is even more important in life than basketball. You have to apply yourself each day to become a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better. Only then will you be able to approach being the best you can be. It begins by trying to make each day count and knowing you can never make up for a lost day.
If a player appeared to be taking it easy in practice, I told him, "Don't think you can make up for it by working twice as hard tomorrow. If you have it within your power to work twice as hard, why aren't you doing it now?"
If you sincerely try to do your best to make each day a masterpiece, angels can do no better.
Drink Deeply from Good Books, Including the Bible
Poetry, biographies, and all the other great books will greatly enrich your life. There are so many that are so good, and they are all available to you. The poetry Dad read to us when we were kids instilled a love of reading, English, books, and knowledge.
It was a priceless gift and one that has enhanced my own life so much. Drink deeply from those great books of your own choosing and you will enrich yourself.
Make Friendship a Fine Art
Don't take friendship for granted. Friendship is giving and sharing of yourself. If just one side works at it, it isn't friendship. You must work at friendship. Make it a fine art. Go more than halfway. It is two-sided, just like marriage.
Someone is not a good friend because he or she does good things for you all the time. It's friendship when you do good things for each other. It's showing concern and consideration. Friendship is so valuable and so powerful. We take it for granted, but we shouldn't.
At times when I am feeling low, I hear from a friend and then My worries start to go away And I am on the mend.
In spite of all that doctors know, And their studies never end, The best cure of all when spirits fall Is a kind note from a friend.
The first and most important step in friendship is being a friend.
Build a Shelter Against a Rainy Day
This is not necessarily a material shelter. Your faith, whatever it may be, is the greatest shelter of all. In many ways we've been taken in by materialism. I'm not saying possessions are unimportant, but we often put them out of proportion, ahead of family, faith, and friends.
Pray for Guidance and Count and Give Thanks for Your Blessings Every Day
So often we fail to acknowledge what we have because we're so concerned about what we want. We fail to give real thanks for the many blessings for which we did nothing: our life itself, the flowers, the trees, our family and friends. This moment. All of our blessings we take for granted so much of the time.
A wise person once observed, "How much more pleasant this world would be if we magnified our blessings the way we magnify our disappointments."
And, of course, with that we must also pray for guidance. One of my players at UCLA once told me he was embarrassed to have anyone know that he prayed. There's no shame in praying for guidance. It's a sign of strength.
Living Up to Dad's Creed
I am now in my eighth decade and I would like to be able to tell you that I lived up to Dad's creed, but I am more like the fellow who said:
I am not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I am going to be, But I am thankful that I am better than I used to be.
It's important to keep trying to do what you think is right no matter how hard it is or how often you fail. You never stop trying. I'm still trying.
Give It Away to Get It Back
There is a wonderful, almost mystical, law of nature that says three of the things we want most—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained when we give them to others.
Six of Life's Puzzlers
? Why is it easier to criticize than to compliment?
? Why is it easier to give others blame than to give them credit?
? Why is it that so many who are quick to make suggestions find it so difficult to make decisions?
? Why can't we realize that it only weakens those we want to help when we do things for them that they should do for themselves?
? Why is it so much easier to allow emotions rather than reason to control our decisions?
? Why does the person with the least to say usually take the longest to say it?
It has been said that you will be hurt occasionally if you trust too much. This may be true, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough.
Trusting is part of our higher nature. Doubting is a lower instinct. The latter is easy to do, the former more difficult—but so much more rewarding.
Politeness and Courtesy
You've heard the expression "Politeness and courtesy are a small price to pay for the goodwill of others." In fact, I've used it myself from time to time even though I don't really agree with it.
Being polite and courteous isn't paying a price any more than smiling or being happy is paying a price. You get more than you give when you are polite and courteous. You don't pay. You are paid.
What You Are
A favorite observation of my dad's was the following: "Never believe you're better than anybody else, but remember that you're just as good as everybody else." That's important: No better, but just as good!
I attempted to keep that in mind both when we weren't winning national championships and when we were. It helped me avoid getting carried away with myself.
It goes back to the importance of having strong guidance and role models in the home. That's where the standards are set.
Nellie and I Agreed to Be Agreeable
Nellie Riley caught my eye the first time I ever saw her back at Martinsville High School in Indiana. It was on a warm star-filled night at the carnival during the summer of my freshman year. I think we probably fell in love right away and didn't even know it.
Folks think Nellie and I had a perfect marriage, but it was because we worked at it. There are rough patches in any marriage. Very early we understood that there would be times when we disagreed but there would never be times when we had to be disagreeable. We kept to that rule for over half a century.
Nellie and I have a great love for one another, but we understood that even love takes some work.
Passion Isn't Love
Love is more than passion. Passion is temporary. It isn't lasting. Love, real love, lasts.
Love and Marriage
Love means many things. It means giving. It means sharing. It means forgiving. It means understanding. It means being patient. It means learning. And you must always consider the other side, the other person. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.