Slate.com attacks John Wooden

Slate.com's Tommy Craggs played Scrooge last week, writing perhaps the only known hit-job on UCLA's legendary coach John Wooden. "It's time we retire this notion of Wooden as basketball's wise old man and see his legacy for what it is," Craggs writes, "a triumph of rigidity, bureaucracy, paternalism, and anal retentiveness."

I don't disagree that Wooden's beyond-saintly reputation sometimes exasperates those of us in the non-Bruin demographic. And, I don't disagree with Craggs that college basketball coaches, in general, are shameless control-freaks whose blood pressure goes through the roof when "the kids" do their own thing.

But Craggs wants to blame Wooden and his opinions and teachings for events that he has no control over. Craggs writes that, "Wooden, and our beatification of the man, has had its toxic effect on the game." How so? "It's certainly there in the NBA," writes Craggs, "which . . . stood idly by while Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles benched Ben Wallace, one of the hardest-working players in the game, for wearing a headband."

Sorry, but that makes no sense. Wooden may indeed be an ultra-conservative when it comes to hoops. (Or, as Deadspin.com put it, "if [Wooden] embraces the whiter aspects of basketball above others, then he's certainly not the only one.") But, if anything, the veneration of Wooden (as espoused by people like Bill Walton) comes precisely because his old-timey ways and aphorisms lost out not long after he retired from UCLA in the mid-1970s. I'd wager that most of today's NBA execs would answer "John who?" if asked about Wooden and his coaching philosophy.

Look, Wooden doesn't need defenders; he's got all of Bruin nation behind him (as well as a cottage industry of books and tapes). But the veneration of Wooden, outside of Westwood, has long been removed from what happened on the court. It's about the man and the values he espouses -- loyalty, humbleness, respect. Yes, that may sound damn (er, darn) Midwest hokey, but they're not about conservative or liberal. They're about life and how we choose to live it.

Here's one of Wooden's quotes that Craggs will probably hate: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

December 12, 2006 10:30 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor
 

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