Coach Wooden: Timeless Wisdom - Part 1 (Transcript)

Dr. Dobson: You're listening to Family Talk, the radio broadcasting division of the James Dobson Family Institute. I am that James Dobson and I'm so pleased that you've joined us today.

Roger Marsh: Hello, everyone. This is Roger Marsh from the James Dobson Family Institute. Thanks so much for listening to Family Talk today. We hope that you've had a blessed February filled with love and joy. And as we end the month, I want to tell you why today is a special day. It was February 27th, 2010 that Dr. Dobson officially announced his intentions to start this ministry of Family Talk. As we celebrate 10 years of ministry, let's listen now to Dr. Dobson talk about why he founded this organization.

Dr. Dobson: If the institution of the family was coming apart in 1977, and it was, it's even in greater peril today. Marriages are struggling, many of them are disintegrating. And the culture is at war with parents for the hearts and minds of children. I felt the Lord's hand in my back, like I had felt it three decades earlier. I heard the call to a familiar mission and message. So we're doing it again. We're doing what we can to reach out to listeners around the country and that brings us to today. Our mission statement is to help preserve and promote the institution of the family, and the biblical principles on which it's based and to seek to introduce as many people as possible to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Family Talk will continue to be on marriage, parenthood, evangelism, and encouraging righteousness in the culture.

Roger Marsh: Indeed. Well, those issues remain the focus and foundation of the ministry here at Family Talk. And for Dr. Dobson, all of us here at the Family Talk studios, thank you for your support. We are so grateful that you've invited us into your home and into your heart each and every day and we ask that you continue to pray that God would bless our efforts for years to come. With all that said, let's listen now to today's edition of Family Talk.

Welcome everyone to today's edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh and I'm joined now by our host, psychologist and bestselling author, Dr. James Dobson. And Doctor, today we are revisiting a classic broadcast featuring a man who was a hero to many. He is remembered as one of the winningest coaches in the history of college basketball, but more importantly, he was a man of strong faith and conviction until the day he passed away. This is a perfect time to air this special broadcast as well, especially with March Madness just around the corner.

Dr. Dobson: That gives us an opportunity to go back and talk to Coach John Wooden. Maybe the finest basketball coach in the history of the game. I knew him. I had an opportunity to talk to him. We became good friends. He has gone on to be with the Lord. He died in his 90s, but before he passed he came to do a broadcast with me. In fact, three of them. We're going to let our listeners hear two of those three broadcasts. We had an audience for those interviews. There were about 150 people in the audience. We kind of made a makeshift studio and I'm telling you, that was a wonderful time with a good, good man. He loved the Lord and he's going to tell us about that today.

Roger Marsh: And Doctor, the insights and stories that Coach Wooden share that day are truly timeless. Now, this program is not just for basketball fans. Even those who don't follow sports can learn something from this broadcast. Coach Wooden had a lifetime full of wisdom, didn't he? That far surpassed his achievements on the court.

Dr. Dobson: He won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years.

Roger Marsh: Wow.

Dr. Dobson: I mean that's success in basketball, but as he will tell us today, basketball was not his first love.

Roger Marsh: Well, he has a great deal of knowledge to pass along. So let's pick up now as you introduce this basketball icon on today's classic edition of Family Talk.

Dr. Dobson: Well, I am so personally honored to have Coach John Wooden as our guest here today. I've admired this man greatly for many, many years. Even though we've already met, we've met on several occasions, but this is the first time that he's agreed to appear on our program. Welcome.

John Wooden: Thank you very much. It's nice to be here.

Dr. Dobson: You've been in my office on several occasions before and I have admired you, not only up close but from a distance. Except, except when you were at UCLA and I was at USC as a student and as a faculty member. I resented you greatly during those days because you beat us every year, every year. But I've learned to get over that and I just want you to know that I love you anyway.

Before we get into the meat of the program, I'm going to do something that I have never done, never done this, but there's a reason why I want to do it. For the first time, I am going to read basically the entire biography of this man, because I want our listeners to know who he is, what he's accomplished, and the incredible record that he's accumulated. Not only in basketball, but in life. And so let me do that. Well, we'll start with an unequaled record as a college coach, his teams at UCLA over a 27-year period, won a record 10 national championships. No one has even come close to that, including seven in a row. 38 consecutive NCAA tournament victories. Four undefeated full seasons. An 88 game winning streak and 19 Pac 10 championships, that's the league championship.

Coach Wooden retired in 1975 after achieving an unmatched 40-year career winning percentage of over 800, making him one of the winningest coaches ever. But his basketball career started much, much younger obviously. When he was in high school, he led the high school team to the Indiana State Championship in 1927. It's been a long time, Coach.

John Wooden: Yes, it has.

Dr. Dobson: Two other years, his team was a runner up and three times Wooden was named on the Allstate team. Then he went to Purdue University and he played on two national championship teams, 1930, 1932. He was a three time all American there. 1932 he received the Helms Athletic Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year. In 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President George Bush presented Wooden with this highest civilian honor in the United States.

Dr. Dobson: In the year 2000, the NCAA and ESPN named him Coach of the Century. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the Century's Best College Basketball Coach and he was named the NCAA Coach of the Year six times. Coach, when you look back on all those accomplishments, you've heard interviewers go through that litany before, but it is an incredible list of accomplishments. What comes to mind when you think back on a career that reached such heights?

John Wooden: I think I've been very blessed about being able to be with a number of great people. I would've never had those basketball records unless I had had the great players under my supervision. Certainly, individually as a player, I had some great teammates and that's a good thing. I had some great coaches. I'm more proud of something like the academic award, I feel that I earned. The other things, somebody else earned them for me.

Dr. Dobson: Did you maintain a standard of discipline even through that anti-establishment era at UCLA?

John Wooden: Yes. I don't think that it was out of line at all, but I required certain things and I expect them to adhere to them and I believe youngsters. If you do, then within reason, they won't have no problem. They may test you, which is all right, but I think they'll go along with you. Little things that some they would laugh about, so it's not too bad.

Dr. Dobson: Hey, let's go back to your childhood because you've written a lot about the way you were raised. You were raised on a farm, a poor farm during the depression, things were very tough. You all eventually lost the farm, didn't you?

John Wooden: Yes, we did.

Dr. Dobson: And you did without a lot of things that today people feel like they have to have.

John Wooden: Well, We didn't know we were doing without things, just accept things as they were and it didn't seem ... I mean you look back on it, it seemed like must've been very ... It was difficult for my mother. It was difficult for her with all the boys, washing with no electricity and no running water and things of that sort. It was difficult on my mother, we always had plenty to eat. Overalls were always well patched. So everything was all right.

Dr. Dobson: The crops did not prosper, the animals died and you had to move to the city.

John Wooden: Well, and the city was 4800 people, but the gymnasium seated 5200 and it was always full and they were a little crazy there. But yes, animals hadn't been vaccinated and had some [inaudible 00:10:35] bacteria. But my father never blamed anybody. It was his fault that he had it done and, I never heard my father ever blame anybody for anything.

Dr. Dobson: Well, talk about him because as I hear the things you've said about him, he reminds me somewhat of my father and what he meant to me. He had a great impact on you, didn't he?

John Wooden: Oh yes, he did. He was a gentle man in many ways. Physically strong. He tried to get across the idea to us that you should never try to be better than somebody else because anything you'll ever know, you'll learn from somebody else in one way or another, and so you should always be learning from them. I never heard him speak an ill word of another person. My father was an admirable person.

Dr. Dobson: He taught you to love two things, the Bible and poetry.

John Wooden: Yes. He read to us every night and I remember he read a lot of poetry. I can still close my eyes and hear him reading, "By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis ..." and so on, so on. But my graduation from grade school, you may have heard that he gave me two things. So one was a poem, a verse by Reverend Henry Van Dyke. And said, "Four things a man must learn to do if he would make his life more true, to think without confusion clearly to love his fellow man, sincerely, to act from honest motives, purely, to trust in God and heaven securely."

Then the other side was a seven-point creed and he said, "Son try to live up to this. And it was be true to yourself, help others, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Make each day your masterpiece. Build a shelter against a rainy day and give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance. He gave me that on a little card when I graduated from grade school in 1924 and I've carried that till it wore out. Something ...

Dr. Dobson: Coach, I don't think you would mind me telling people because you've been very open with your age, but you're 93 years of age and your father-

John Wooden: Only.

Dr. Dobson: Beg your pardon?

John Wooden: Only.

Dr. Dobson: Only. Your father gave you that card and that poem and you memorized it when you graduated from-

John Wooden: Grade school.

Dr. Dobson: ... grade school. And it's with you today.

John Wooden: Surely.

Dr. Dobson: Tell me that a parent does not have an impact on a child.

John Wooden: Oh, parenting is the most important profession in the world. I believe that very, very ... definitely.

Dr. Dobson: That's what we live for here, is talking about marriage and parenthood and the family. How long did he live?

John Wooden: He lived till he was 69.

Dr. Dobson: Do you remember his loss?

John Wooden: Very well.

Dr. Dobson: Was that a very difficult experience for you?

John Wooden: Of course. Yes, it is when you lose anyone dear to you. Of course, it is. You remember.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. Well, you had $908 in the bank.

John Wooden: And a nickel.

Dr. Dobson: And a nickel. And the bank folded. This was when you were just getting ready to get married to Nellie, is that right?

John Wooden: We were going to be married the next day, going to go to Indianapolis three miles North of where we lived.

Dr. Dobson: That was your life savings?

John Wooden: Yes. I had managed, after my basketball season was over at Purdue. I played a little, barnstormed a little and saved up a little money to get married. We'd planned on this and I didn't know how to go do it. And one of Nellie's dearest friends called me and pushed an envelope at me and said, "Pay me back when you can." He gave me $200. That was very, very, very nice. So we drove to Indianapolis, was married. And the youngsters might get a kick out of this, we were married and my brother and his girlfriend, she had a car. They drove us up there. Afterwards, we went to the theater and we saw the Mills Brothers make their first appearance in Indianapolis. And I thought they were going to sing all night because Nellie and I were tired and we wanted to leave and get to bed. But there's a-

Dr. Dobson: I think I get it. Yeah.

Dr. Dobson: She was the absolute love of your life, wasn't she?

John Wooden: Yeah. She's the only girl I ever went with.

Dr. Dobson: The only one you ever dated and you were married to her for 53 years.

John Wooden: Correct.

Dr. Dobson: 53 years. And you lost her in 1985.

John Wooden: I Did.

Dr. Dobson: How did she die?

John Wooden: She had leukemia and some other problems too.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. I asked you how difficult it was for you to lose your father and you said it was difficult. But I understand that you grieved for years over Nellie's loss.

John Wooden: Never got over it. Of course, I still remember. But to my daughter and son and ex-players and other student friends, they help you.

Dr. Dobson: Would it be too personal if I mentioned what I read, that every year now, all these years later on your anniversary, you write her a love letter?

John Wooden: Well, I write a note on the 21st of each month.

Dr. Dobson: Of each month?

John Wooden: Of each month.

Dr. Dobson: Each month.

John Wooden: Because I lost her on the 21st of March in 1985 and that happened to be our daughter's birthday too.

Dr. Dobson: Wow.

John Wooden: I write her a little note on the 21st of each month.

Dr. Dobson: And you've done that ...

John Wooden: Since I lost her.

Dr. Dobson: Since you lost her. Where are all those notes today?

John Wooden: They're hidden.

Dr. Dobson: Did you blame God when you lost Nellie?

John Wooden: No. No. You accept things. What's best, she was out of pain. She suffered no pain. She was at peace. She had suffered a long time. No, I didn't blame Him.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. Tell us how you met Nellie. I think there's a story there, isn't there?

John Wooden: Yeah. There was a bit of a story. My freshman year in high school, they lived on this farm eight miles North of this town and commuted back and forth on an inter-urban. And I saw her, I thought she was kind of cute. But I didn't think she saw me at all. But that summer-

Dr. Dobson: You're a fox is what you are.

John Wooden: That summer, before we lost the farm, I was plowing corn in a field that was close to their little dirt road, and I was resting the mules that I was using and a car drove up. And stopped on the side of the road and she got out and her best friend. They motioned me over and I wouldn't go, and I kept shaking my head no [inaudible 00:17:26]. They kept going. Well finally they drove away. Well, when school started that next year, now we had moved into this little town and first day of class, heading to an Algebra class, and she's going too and her friend. She stopped me and said, "Why didn't you come over and talk to her?" And I said, "I was shy, I was sweaty and dirty and you would made fun of me." And she said, "I would never make fun of you." I knew right then this is the one for me.

Dr. Dobson: How old were you at that time?

John Wooden: 14 or 15. 15.

Dr. Dobson: And you fell in love and said, "That's the one for me." Was there ever in 53 years, any regret for having married her? Was there ever a moment when you wish you hadn't?

John Wooden: Never. Never.

Dr. Dobson: Can that kind of marriage still work, Coach?

John Wooden: Of course, of course.

Dr. Dobson: What's required to make it work like that?

John Wooden: Listen and don't be disagreeable when you're disagreeing. But the greatest and most important word of all is love. Love. It's the most important word. And if it's there, it'll overcome all things.

Dr. Dobson: So you began life with almost nothing, no money. You were in debt when you married. Shortly after that, World War II came along and you felt that you ought to join the Navy. What's the story there?

John Wooden: Well, I had made a mistake in a way. I'm not talking whether I enlisted without her knowing. And that's probably the worst disagreement we ever had and that she didn't think I should because I had the two children and was a teacher and I might not have been drafted. I just felt it was the thing to do and I enlisted, and they got over that.

Dr. Dobson: You were on what ship? Were you on any of the ships we would recognize?

John Wooden: No, I was blessed in many ways. I had orders to go to the USS Franklin and on my way I had got terribly sick and my appendix burst, I had an emergency. So they canceled my orders and the fellow that replaced me on the Franklin was hit by a kamikaze and killed. Then I was sent for a training carrier. A USSA boat for training on Lake Michigan for training, where pilots made their first landing. One of the basketball players who had played for me at South Bend made his first landing on a carrier when I was serving as the captain at that particular time.

And then near the end of the war I got orders to go to the Belleau Wood, which was ... Japan had surrendered, it was the South Pacific and I wanted to get out. I didn't want to go to Japan. As soon as the war was over, I didn't want to go over to Tokyo. And the captain of the Seybold USS [inaudible 00:20:30], he managed to get connections to Washington and I got out the next day. Went to the Glenview Naval Air Base out of Chicago and got out.

Dr. Dobson: I understand you had another near death experience, or at least one that could have taken your life.

John Wooden: Well, I suppose you'll think of the time when I was headed for Campbell College at Buies Creek, North Carolina-

Dr. Dobson: That's correct.

John Wooden: Where I went there for a basketball camp for several years in a row. That's where Pete Maravich was coming when he was a youngster. And something came up at UCLA that I couldn't go on Saturday. Now I normally went on Saturday, be there on Sunday because I usually spoke at the chapel for all the youngsters are there. And I couldn't go. So I had my ticket changed to the next day and the plane that I had the ticket for on Saturday crashed, everybody was killed. So I don't know whether that's close or not.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. The Lord was obviously looking out for you. He had something he wanted you to do, Coach.

John Wooden: Apparently so.

Dr. Dobson: And you have felt that divine ordination on your life, haven't you?

John Wooden: I think so. I think so. I think there's more than just what we see. There's something deeper than that. And I don't know what it is and I hope it's pleasing to him.

Dr. Dobson: You mentioned Pete Maravich the day that he died, I don't know if you know that he died in my arms.

John Wooden: I knew that. I knew that.

Dr. Dobson: The day that he died, I set up that little pickup game, just a bunch of duffers and then here comes this superstar of all times, Pete Maravich. And I knew that we had to get somebody to guard him because I sure wasn't going to do it. And Ralph Drollinger came to play with us that day. So he and I wound up giving CPR to Pete. Ralph played with you.

John Wooden: Yes, he did.

Dr. Dobson: He was a center-

John Wooden: Yes, he did.

Dr. Dobson: ... for you during one of those games.

John Wooden: The last championship game in 1975, he played wonderful for us in that game.

Dr. Dobson: Well, you had that wonderful basketball career that ended in 1975. I would think that it would have been pretty difficult to walk away from something that intense and that rewarding and that successful. How hard was it to retire and move on?

John Wooden: It wasn't difficult at all.

Dr. Dobson: Really?

John Wooden: For some reason it was the time. I decided on the spur of the moment. I thought if anybody had asked me even 10 minutes before I would've said, "Oh, I'll teach for two more years, maybe three, but certainly not over three." And then suddenly just like that I decided it's time and I've never regretted it. I've missed practices. I love to teach. I love to plan my daily practices. I love to conduct them, but I don't miss the games. I don't miss the tournaments. I don't miss the falderals, and I don't miss trying to explain to the media what happened and so on and everything. The only thing I miss at all is the practices. That's where you get to learn your players, learn about them, where you establish rapport and relationships that last forever.

Dr. Dobson: Coach, thank you for being our guest. Thank you for the man you are. Thank you for the influence that you've had on several generations of Americans. Thank you for your impact on athletics and thank you for your love for Jesus Christ, and thank you for being my friend. It's been a pleasure having you here.

John Wooden: I've enjoyed it.

Roger Marsh: What a privilege to honor the life of the late John Wooden today here on Family Talk. He was a fantastic coach and an even better man. In fact, at the beginning of today's program, Dr. Dobson summarized Coach Wooden's past accomplishments and honors and that list grew even more following the original recording of this conversation. In 2006, Coach John Wooden was part of the first class elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. And then in 2009, he was named by the sporting news as the greatest coach of all time.

Coach Wooden was so highly respected inside and outside the sports world for his character and his faith. You can visit today's broadcast page at to learn more about Coach John Wooden's legacy. That's and then tap on the broadcast icon at the top of the page. Join us again next time for the conclusion of this classic conversation with a sports legend. That's all coming up on the next edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh. Thanks for listening.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
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