From the Preacherman….            (from June 2010)

I mentioned some of this on Sunday evening in Vespers worship. It’s a decade old, but still appropriate I think….

John Wooden died last week at 99 years of age.  His passing garnered

headlines around the country.  The stories chronicling his life achievements

got the major facts correct:  10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 seasons

(1964-75) as head coach at UCLA; a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame

as both a player and a coach; winner of 885 games in his career.  He is often

called the greatest coach who ever lived.  It is nearly a certainty that his

record of consecutive national championships will never be exceeded in a

major sport at the collegiate level.  These items can be read in almost any

obituary of Coach Wooden.                                      

What most articles failed to mention, however, is Coach Wooden’s life-

long membership in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The fact of

his faith warranted not even a whisper in major newspapers, both in print

and online.  His impact on hundreds of players, his insistence on teaching

rather than winning, his iron-clad insistence on teamwork and his deep moral

convictions all are trumpeted in stories of his life, but the connection to his

faith, learned and practiced in the weekly act of the Lord’s Supper, is rarely


It should be.  Seldom does a human being make a lasting positive

impact on this world without a sense of being connected to, and working for,

something greater than our individual selves.  John Wooden coached his

team and players with an eye on their whole lives, not merely the next play on

the court.  His bedrock belief in the importance of teamwork and

fundamentals sounds quaint in our hyper-individualized world, but his

record mocks any and all who would try to match it with some other

method.  I am convinced that such things are learned over time in the

practice of one’s faith; perhaps specifically in a tradition such as ours, that

emphasizes the importance of each person to the good of the entire Body of

Christ.  Everyone matters or no one matters.

On the first day of practice before each season Coach Wooden did the

same thing:  he sat his players down in the locker room and showed them the

proper way to put on their socks and lace their sneakers, so as to reduce the

chance of injury or blisters.  The players usually rolled their eyes; they were

grown men, champions.  What’s this elementary school stuff?  But they

learned to do the little things well, and they won championships because of

  1. Why?  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed….Jesus said

that.  Coach Wooden knew it, too.  By heart.