The Beckett Blog


John Wooden leaves an immense legacy by Chris Olds

John Wooden‘s basketball legacy speaks volumes. His victories, his championships, his proteges who share a place with him in the Hall of Fame where he was inducted twice — as a player and as a coach — pale in comparison to the other ways he found success in life.

He was one of the world’s greatest coaches — if not the best — but that’s not how he saw himself.

“What am I?” he once asked. “Just a teacher — a member of one of the great professions in the world.”

The former UCLA Bruins coach died Friday evening at age 99. However, for all of his successes on the court — among them 10 NCAA championships including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973 as well as a record 88 consecutive victories — it was the life lessons that he instilled in players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Sidney Wicks that many say makes his legacy much, much greater.

For years after he retired, “The Wizard of Westwood” was a fixture at UCLA games. And for years he was as mighty with his pen as he was with his “Pyramid of Success,” which was included on a signed fold-out business card of his (above) with every through-the-mail autograph request he received. (Click on the image at right to read his advice on life.)

Wooden signed regularly through the mail for collectors and fans until his health and heavy volumes of requests forced him to curb the practice.

He appears on just 186 basketball cards despite a career that spanned parts of six decades as a player and coach. He signed a total of 76 different certified autographs — the most valuable being his $300 2006-07 Chronology Contemporaries dual autograph which he shares with Abdul-Jabbar — and appears on just 15 memorabilia cards. Among his other memorable autograph cards are his 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter card (limited to just 200 copies) and his 2006 Press Pass Autographs card that he shares with Dean Smith.

Wooden does not have a Rookie Card per standard hobby definitions, but his earliest card appears in the 1957-59 Union Oil Booklets set and can be found for approximately $40.

My personal collecting experience includes a through-the-mail autograph obtained years ago. I sent him a 1993 Action Packed card, which shows him with a net around his neck after winning one of his national championships. When he signed the card in silver paint pen, the embossing of the card forced the pen to stumble across the card. Do what did he do? He signed the back of the card for me as well in a much smaller, narrower pen on a small open space as not to obscure any of the information on the card.

That’s much more than he had to do, but that wasn’t all. He included another card as well.

Both cards remain in my collection to this day along with one of his signed Pyramid of Success business cards, perhaps a more fitting item that shows how he went about shaping all of those players that he coached to greatness both on the college court, the NBA court and beyond.

And beyond is precisely what his former players really focus on, with Walton calling his coach an “intergalactic treasure” in this clip recapping Wooden’s time at UCLA.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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