Lakers and Celtics remember Wooden
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- During the Finals thus far, anything not pertaining to the games at hand has been quickly dismissed to keep the focus on the series.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant bristled when he was asked about LeBron James' free-agency interview tour and Celtics coach Doc Rivers stonewalled any preemptive discussion about Tom Thibodeau leaving Boston to coach the Chicago Bulls for instance, but members of both teams were more than willing to discuss one non game-related subject at Saturday's practice.
Legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden died Friday at the age of 99 and the accomplished college coach left an undeniable impression on the NBA teams playing on professional basketball's grandest stage.
Los Angeles reserve forward Luke Walton grew up with Wooden's words taught to him by his dad Bill, who played for Wooden at UCLA in the early 1970s.
"For my dad, he was everything," Walton said. "Basketball was his church and John Wooden was his teacher. He praised him. He had his Pyramid of Success hanging all over [our house], we thought [dad] was a weirdo as kids. He had pictures of this guy all over the house, the pyramid, his books, everything like that everywhere in the house. He used to write John Wooden quotes on our lunch bags every day when we went to school.
"It was something for us and our friends that we would look at every day. There were some that were just one line and some that would take from the top all the way to the bottom of the bag. It wasn't until I started getting a little older I realized how much you could really learn by paying attention to what Coach Wooden had to say."
Luke Walton said the thing that impressed him the most about the coach who won 10 championships with the Bruins was how down to earth he was.
"What was so great about Coach Wooden was that he was a basketball coach, but he taught lessons in life," Walton said. "My dad obviously wouldn't be who he is today without going to UCLA and playing for Coach."
With Bill playing for Wooden and Luke playing for Lakers coach Phil Jackson, the Walton father and son tandem has played for the two most successful coaches. Ever.
"To do what we do as far as basketball being our work and our passion, to get taught by two of the greatest of all time, I think it's very special," Walton said. "It would be like that in any business that you're in to learn from the best is definitely a blessing."
IT'S L.A., AND IT'S LIVE
For more about the Lakers and coverage of the complete Los Angeles sports scene, visit ESPNLosAngeles.com. »
Jackson honored Wooden by sharing an anecdote.
"One of his Final Four games was against my colleague, Tex Winter," Jackson said. "They had great a rivalry going. Tex always tells the story that his team was ahead by four points going into the last stretch of the ballgame, and there was a blizzard out in Kansas. The game's in Kansas City which was close to Manhattan, Kansas, where he was coaching at Kansas State, and then the UCLA girls showed up and the cheerleaders led his team on, the Bruins, on to victory. He said, I think the referees got enamored with the Bruins cheerleaders, all those beautiful California girls."
Despite the funny story, don't think that Jackson puts his 10 championships as a coach in the NBA up in the same stratosphere as Wooden's 10 titles.
"I just stand in awe of the guy," Jackson said.
The same can be said about Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who keeps a framed, signed autographed photograph of Wooden on his desk.
"He was the best coach ever, him and Red Auerbach are the two guys that we talk about, the gods, and there are two of them," Rivers said. "So the fact that I got to meet him and he actually knew my name, to me blew me away on its own right. I don't ask for a lot of autographs, and he was one that I wanted, and he was as gracious as we thought he would be."
Los Angeles native Paul Pierce also evoked Auerbach's name when mentioning Wooden and said he had the chance to meet the Wizard of Westwood several times while growing up in Southern California.
"I'm very familiar with what John Wooden has done for the game of basketball," Pierce said. "When I talk about basketball, I don't mean the college game, I mean all of basketball."
Lakers guard Jordan Farmar played at UCLA almost 30 years after Wooden retired, but said the coach's influence remained omnipresent.
"He was far removed, it was more just the aura and his legacy that was left behind," Farmar said. "You don't feel anything other than he was a normal person, that's what he wanted. He wanted to show that he was just like everybody else and he just trying to live the right way and teach the right things. That's all you felt when he was around him."
Bryant said that he met Wooden as a child, but got a chance to speak to Wooden at length at Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn's funeral in 2002.
"I think if you talk to any of his players, players that played for him, I think the thing that's consistent is that he made them better people, you know," Bryant said. "I think that would be a true mark of his legacy. The winning and all that stuff, that's stuff that we all know about."
The NBA is organizing a ceremony to honor Wooden prior to Sunday's Game 2, according to league spokesman Tim Frank.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
JOHN WOODEN: A LEGEND REMEMBERED
John Wooden passed away at 99, but not before leaving his indelible mark on basketball and the country at large. ESPN.com takes a look at his extraordinary legacy. A tribute to the Wizard
• Reilly: Legendary Wooden set the bar high
• Nack's obituary | Forde: From the heartland
• Jim Murray on the Wizard | Woodenisms
• Adande: Ultimate teacher | Walton bids adieu
• Shelburne: Howland helps us say goodbye
• Wooden photo gallery: A life well-lived
• Tributes: Obama | Vitale | Walton | Woj
• Reax from around the nation | Blog | ESPNLA
• Lavin: What Wooden taught me | E-Ticket
• Video: Vitale | Phelps | Katz | Howland
• The Wizard's life | Reilly: Wooden's love letters