Ten Memories of John Wooden (RIP coach)

by Karl Taro GREENFELD

who has a Twitter Feed named “Diane.”

The first time he took me to a strip club, as I was about to put a dollar bill into the dancer’s G-string, he grabbed my wrist, removed my dollar and slipped into my hand a bill of similar size and shape that turned out to be worthless Burmese currency. In that wizened voice of his, he explained the dancers could never tell the difference in the strobe lights.

He kept my dollar.


He used to come to our dorm rooms late at night, smelling of liquor, and tell us stories about his childhood in Indiana and how he invented basketball. When we would voice skepticism about the accuracy of his account, he would shout at us, challenge us to wrestle him, then he would use our telephone to make long distance calls to his old girlfriends.


Our first practice, he gathered us around him and showed us his Pyramid of Success. Read the stone on the bottom left: “Join mail order record clubs for the cheap introductory offer, pay the penny membership fee, then cancel your membership”.


Coach had these specially designed pants that had holes in the seat. He used to place false teeth in his buttocks and collect loose change from sofas while sitting and talking to parents on recruiting trips. He only had to affect a slight bob, up and down, up and down.


During a goodwill tour of the Soviet Union in the late 60s, Coach was seduced by a male prostitute hired by the KGB. He told us during halftime of a game against Moscow Dynamo that he had fallen in love with Yuri, he was going to defect and wanted to take the whole team with him. He only relented when Gail Goodrich explained that he had also had sex with Yuri. We went out and beat Moscow Dynamo 68-52 but our hearts just weren’t in the game.


At one point, when a booster proposed buying every player on the team a new Chevrolet, Coach told him no, that wasn’t right, and instead had the booster buy him eleven new Chevrolets.


When Smokey and the Bandit II came out, Coach canceled practice so we could all go see it the day it opened. He had slept overnight on the sidewalk outside the theater to be sure he was first in line, and to secure our tickets to the first show.


He tried to sue the Egyptian government for using his Pyramid concept in their own historical architecture.


He refused to play any Florida teams in basketball, because he claimed the risks of flying near the Bermuda Triangle were too great. It turned out there were three paternity suits against him, all of them in Tallahassee, and Gainseville.


At the start of every season, he asked each player to give him a $20 bill, which he had us sign before he put the bills in a sock that he kept in his desk. He said if we won the NCAA championship, we could have the money back. But when we won the title, the money had mysteriously “vanished”. He would make a big show of looking around in his desk and under his desk and around his office, but it was obvious he had already spent the money on new false teeth.

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