Notebook > Sports
Associated Press

Atop the pyramid

Sports | College sports' present turmoil belies the passing of its greatest coach

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

College athletics are in a state of disarray. Big-name schools are jumping to different conferences in moves that threaten longstanding rivalries, upset decades of tradition, and could remake the national landscape to undermine the recent growth of smaller programs.

What's more, the most successful college football team of the past decade has received the equivalent of a backyard whipping from the NCAA for recruiting violations. The USC Trojans will forfeit 20 scholarships, vacate their national championship of 2004, and languish through two years of bowl game ineligibility.

All this within a week of the passing of college sports' most decorated coach. The juxtaposition between media tributes to John Wooden and the news of collegiate turmoil underscores the value of the former UCLA basketball head man's contributions to coaching, athletics, and humanity. Wooden's legacy charts unparalleled success-10 national titles as a coach, one as a player, four undefeated seasons, and one seven-year stretch during which the Bruins lost a total of just five games.

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But the coach's legacy is much broader than championships. His life left a mark on countless people who learned from his simple philosophies and exemplary wisdom. Wooden developed maxims and teaching points throughout his three decades of coaching that still inspire industrious living. His Pyramid of Success, a sort of blueprint for winning in basketball or life, drips with proverbial wisdom from the Christian scriptures: "Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way."

Wooden never shied from stating his commitment to Christian faith: "There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior." But he was hardly heavy-handed in passing on the lessons he treasured. Sitting atop his pyramid is a box with the words "Competitive Greatness." His definition follows: "Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day."

Chicago kings

The longest active drought of Stanley Cup glory ended at 49 years when Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane slipped an overtime goal through the legs of Philadelphia keeper Michael Leighton. But the long-awaited celebration for hockey fans in the Windy City had to wait just a few seconds longer as confusion over whether the puck had breached the net slowly turned to confirmation that indeed the party could begin.

Chicagoans spilled into the streets, motorists honked horns, and the victorious team jetted home to join the revelry. For a sports crazed city with two underperforming ball clubs, a quarterback prone to complete throws to players in the wrong colored jerseys, and a basketball team in transition, the Stanley Cup was a welcome balm. For the first time in Chicago since 1961, hockey is king.

But rumors of another king could soon displace the city's newfound ice fetish. With the LeBron James sweepstakes slated to open July 1, the Bulls are well-positioned to land the biggest free agent in Chicago sports history-especially given their recent head coaching hire of former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, who shares an agent with James.

For all the parties and parades and Michael Jordan sightings at playoff hockey games, the acquisition of James would push the Bulls back on top.

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