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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

Hard-Won Hard-Court Wisdom

A new biography of John Wooden shines a spotlight on his retirement years as a business speaker based in the Valley. The UCLA basketball coach, who died in 2010 at age 99, won 10 national championships, including seven in a row. At one point, his UCLA teams won 88 consecutive games. During his UCLA career, Wooden lived in Santa Monica and Culver City, but after his retirement in 1975 he and his wife Nell bought a condo in Encino. Wooden would hold court nearly every day at Vips, a restaurant in Tarzana. Henry Bibby, Larry Farmer, Jamaal Wilkes, Bill Walton, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Marques Johnson were among the regulars at the table. “As great as he was as a coach, the work he did after he retired was more significant,” said Seth Davis, author of the book “Wooden: A Coach’s Life” and senior writer at Sports Illustrated. “He could talk about the things that really mattered to him, rather than just the numbers on the scoreboard.” Wooden ran a basketball camp and wrote books, but his main business was public speaking. He had contracts with corporations to make a certain number of appearances featuring his “Pyramid of Success” lecture, which outlined a program of 10 steps to success. He was a good story-teller, though Davis points out that over time the stories strayed from factual truth. For example, one favorite story detailed how Wooden bailed out Walton after his arrest for staging an anti-war protest at the UCLA administration building. Actually, Wooden was speaking at a clinic in Portland the night of Walton’s arrest. Although they disagreed on plenty of issues, when Walton became a broadcaster he would call Wooden nearly every day to talk about hoops and life. But with his homespun wisdom and dry wit, Wooden offered audiences a glimpse back to a simpler time. It turned out that his talk about individual discipline and a team mindset gained currency over time and applied better to corporate managers than basketball players. “Usually, as you get older you become less relevant,” Davis said. “With him, he was in high demand on the speaking circuit into his early 90s. He seemed to defy death and it only enhanced his stature.” – Joel Russell

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.

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