Financial Planning Begins with a Look in the Mirror
Peach Basket Parables: UCLA and The Wizard Of Westwood
No book that includes a college basketball game premise would be complete without mentioning John Wooden. Most longtime basketball followers know Wooden’s story well. Start with the fact he is generally regarded as the greatest coach in college basketball history. He coached the UCLA Bruins to seven consecutive NCAA championships (1967–1973) during a stretch in which they won ten titles in twelve years. At one point, his teams won eighty-eight consecutive games, a men’s basketball record at that, as of 2013, still stood. Despite his incredible .813 winning percentage over twenty-seven seasons at UCLA and the truckload of trophies, Wooden’s basketball success is not his only claim to fame.
Wooden is universally respected for his philosophical approach to coaching, most notably his Pyramid of Success, through which he instilled invaluable lessons in his players, lessons he eventually shared with the world. “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player,” he said, and that was saying a lot because Wooden was a terrific player in his own right.
Born in 1910 and raised on an Indiana farm, Wooden starred in basketball at Martinsville High School. The arena had more seats than there were people in the town – and it was still full for most games. In college, he played for Purdue and led the Boilermakers to a national championship. He also played professionally for several years, once leading the (pre-NBA) National Basketball League in scoring.
Professional athletes back then also had day jobs, and Wooden found his passion teaching English during the day and coaching sports on the side. At one point, he passed up a high-paying opportunity with a traveling exhibition team to stay in his classroom job. Eventually he left high school teaching and began his career as a college coach in 1946.
Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Wooden would later earn the nickname “the Wizard of Westwood” (referring to UCLA’s Los Angeles neighborhood) although he was not particularly known as a master in-game strategist. Later in his life, he even acknowledged that making calculated changes during the flow of the game was not his strong point.
Most would say that Wooden’s greatest talent was his ability to maximize the potential of players by creating a near-unbeatable system of play. It involved impeccably organized practices and a knack for challenging players to challenge themselves, knowing how to get through to each one. He encouraged players to look inward and to understand and improve themselves before they presumed to contribute to the team. The first line of his widely followed Seven-Point Creed was “Be true to yourself.”
Wooden also demanded discipline, routine, and uniformity. He was not a tyrant; he wanted only to instill in his team the realization they could not control everything and therefore should take care to master what was within their power. He began each season with a lesson on how to put on your socks (allow no wrinkles) and shoes (lace ‘em up tight). They were not going to lose games because of blisters on their feet. Long hair and beards were not permitted on his team. He believed they caused excessive perspiration that could be a distraction at a critical moment.
As Wooden’s players grew into the mold he had constructed for them, he would come to know his team members as well as they knew themselves. He was then able to parlay their personal commitments into extraordinary results on the court. To this day, his pupils, including greats such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor (later to known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), credit Wooden for their success as players and as men.
Stick With the Game Plan
The Bruins’ long-term dominance on Wooden’s watch was not the result of high-tech training facilities or a brilliantly devised offense. He long insisted that the UCLA basketball dynasty was the result of sound fundamentals and a straightforward system – simple on paper yet difficult to execute without 100 percent effort from the entire team.
One of the best examples of Wooden’s winning formula actually came in one of his most notable losses, a 71-69 defeat in January 1968 to Houston that ended a forty-seven game Bruins winning streak. UCLA had not lost in two-and-a-half seasons and went into the game ranked number one. The second-ranked Cougars had not lost since UCLA defeated them the season before.
The matchup of the first and second-ranked teams featuring the two greatest college players at the time – Alcindor and Houston’s Elvin Hayes – was billed as the “Game of the Century.” It was the first regular season NCAA basketball game televised nationwide during prime time, and it was being played in what was then considered the ultramodern Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium. More than fifty-two thousand spectators in attendance made up the largest paid audience ever to witness a basketball game.
The marquee stars of the evening were Hayes, a six-foot-eight forward, and the seven-foot-two Alcindor, UCLA’s imposing center. Thought Alcindor was the best player in the country and had been (and would be) nearly unstoppable all season, he played that night with a scratched cornea that had kept him out of the previous two games.
Nevertheless, Wooden knew his team. He knew its success was built around Alcindor. He was going to stick it within his system in place of any newfangled tactics designed to protect any ineffectiveness of Alcindor’s.
Alcindor, however, had one of the worst games of his college career while Hayes excelled, scoring thirty-nine points. UCAL lost by two points, and there was “pandemonium in the Astrodome.” Even though it was a regular season game, the next day’s headlines effectively crowned a new college basketball king, and TV stations around the country replayed the game every day for a week. UCLA players, most of whom had never lost a game, described feeling shocked and dismayed by the public dethroning.
Wooden knew, though, it was only a temporary setback. He knew his players, and they believed in the system. Rather than fall into a tailspin, the Bruins went undefeated the rest of the season and went on to win the NCAA championship. Along the way, they took their revenge, trouncing the Cougars 101-69 in a NCAA semifinal. On his website, Alcindor, now known as Abdul-Jabbar, calls it the most significant victory of his college career.
- John Wooden was the first person to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame both as a player (1961) and as a coach (1973). He has many awards named after him, but the best-known honor might be the Wooden Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding college basketball players (one male and one female) each year.
- Wooden retired in 1975 immediately after winning his tenth NCAA championship (and the Bruins would not win another national title for twenty years). He remained a visible icon in the UCLA community and nationwide until his death in 2010, just shy of his one-hundredth birthday.
- List the important lessons you learned about money while growing up.
- Note the differences in perspective between you and your spouse regarding spending, saving, and investing.
- Be aware of investment strategies you favor or dislike based on your past experiences.
© 2014 Chuck Thoele
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