PHOENIX — John Wooden has not coached a basketball game since 1975, but his immense influence on the game of basketball can be seen from the fact that his Pyramid of Success was posted this season on the locker of Amare Stoudemire, a player who did not even play college ball and wasn’t born for seven years after Wooden retired.
But Wooden — who passed away on Friday of natural causes — was that big of a giant in this game, influencing so many basketball players from his era and subsequent ones.
His lessons are universally revered among those in the game of basketball, and his wisdom will keep him alive in the game for many years to come.
There never has and never will be another coach like Wooden, and it’s unlikely that his dominance at the college level will ever be surpassed. He won 10 of the 12 titles between 1964-75, including seven in a row between 1967-73. Wooden’s Bruins lost a grand total of 10 games in his 10 title years and at one point they won an unfathomable 88 consecutive games.
During the Nash Era, the Suns have always been better as the hunters rather than the hunted, as evidenced by the special 2004-05 and 2009-10 seasons that started with little expectations. The only other time a Nash Suns team made the conference finals was the underdog 2005-06 team missing Amare.
repeated that exact sentiment in the aftermath of the Suns’ conference finals loss to the Lakers.
“Next year we’re going to be hunted, people are going to come after us because of what we were able to accomplish this season, and so we have to be prepared for that,” he said. “We can’t sneak up, we can’t be that silent assassin that surprises teams all season. I think it’s tougher when you are considered a good team.
“People have watched us and seen what we’ve done and people are going to be circling their calendars and preparing and wanting to get a win against the Suns next season.”
Before the conference finals, I wrote about the Disease of More. Basically after a championship season (or in a watered-down form after a good season like the Suns’ this year), everybody wants more money, more time, more touches.
We’ll be seeing that next month when Amare seeks a max contract,asks for the biggest contract he will probably get in his career, and Lou Amundson looks for his first decent NBA contract. It’s why sustained success is so difficult in any sport, because when you taste success everybody wants to go get their big dollars and expanded roles elsewhere, and you aren’t as hungry as you were the first year.
The Suns still obviously will be hungry for a title, but we know the Suns’ trio of big men will be looking to cash in on the open market.
Of course, Wooden did not have to deal with free agency departures at UCLA, but he did have to deal with the complacency that can set in with a team that wins and his Bruins ALWAYS were the hunted.
That complacency is a reason we haven’t seen back-to-back champs in the NBA since the Lakers three-peated from 2000-02, why we haven’t seen back-t0-back baseball champs since the 1998-00 Yankees dynasty, and why we have seen just the 2003-04 New England Patriots repeating this decade.
Since Wooden left college hoops there have been only two different repeat champions, the special 2006-07 Florida teams and Hill’s own 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils. Sure, the talent pool is much more diluted these days, but for Wooden to have won 10 titles in 12 years and for there to have been only a pair of repeat champs in the past 35 years says a lot about the Wizard of Westwood.
But really that should be no surprise to anybody familiar with some of Wooden’s most famous quotes. Here are some of my favorites:
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”
‘Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
“Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
We lost the world’s greatest college basketball coach ever and an even better man on Friday. May his wisdom be an inspiration for future basketball teams at all levels, including — of course — the Phoenix Suns.