Celebrity game honors Wooden's legacy

Updated: August 17, 2010, 4:25 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

HAWTHORNE, Calif. -- The messages shared in John Wooden's Pyramid of Success have always made a larger-than-life impact, but nowhere is the pyramid itself so larger than life than at the Hawthorne Athletic Xchange (HAX).

Measuring approximately 15 feet tall by 20 feet wide, the pyramid is omnipresent in HAX, an airplane hangar-turned-training facility that houses six full-sized basketball courts as well as a weight room and other exercise areas.

On Saturday, HAX hosted the firstnannual John Wooden Memorial Celebrity Game, with the proceeds benefiting the HAX Foundation to raise money for underprivileged athletes.

The game, which featured former Laker Rick Fox, ABC NBA analyst Mark Jackson, and entertainers Bill Bellamy and Guy Torry as players, as well as former Los Angeles Sparks player Lisa Leslie, former UCLA great Marques Johnson and ESPN 710's Mychal Thompson as guest coaches, raised more than $6,000 for charity and attracted approximately 800 fans, according to HAX CEO, Jeff Herdman.

ESPN Zone at L.A. Live was one of the corporate sponsors for the game as well.

"There's just a huge need for all the underprivileged student athletes that are out here," Herdman said. "There's a ton of kids that are talented that we're trying to raise money for to bring them into programs, keep them off the streets and try and help them progress in basketball on and off the court. ... If we raise a dollar, I'm happy with it. Anything we can raise is great."

HAX's partnership with Wooden started while the legendary coach was still alive. Last summer HAX hosted the John Wooden Pyramid of Success Awards and honored Leslie, Paul Pierce, Dick Vitale and McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner.

"He was an amazing man who changed the game of basketball, and it's an honor for me to be a part of it," Leslie said. "I was just talking to his sister and brother about the last time I had dinner, we were all sitting at the table and I was sitting with John Wooden and he talked about how much he loved women's basketball and the WNBA because it was pure basketball and it reminded him of the way he coached."

Wooden was represented by about a dozen family members who watched the game from a set of bleachers located directly below the Pyramid of Success. Among the group were Wooden's son, Jim, and grandson, Greg.

"I think it's a positive thing and my grandfather doesn't have to be here today for me know that that this is something that he would be extremely proud about," said Greg Wooden, who works for Adopt A Highway in Newport Beach. "Most of his life, he was always trying to give back to children and he was trying to give back to just about anybody he possibly could."

Jim Wooden addressed the crowd at halftime of the event and quoted Mother Teresa, whom he described as one of one of this father's idols."If you haven't done something for somebody today, you really haven't done anything," he said.

Herdman said that next summer he plans to tap into the wealth of top-tier NBA talent who train at his facility and have an All-Star game comprised of current NBA players to pair with the celebrity game to honor Wooden.

To get a feel for just how influential a basketball haven HAX has become, consider that more than half of the 13-man roster headed to Turkey to represent USA Basketball in the World Championships has trained at HAX at some point in the 18 months since it opened in 2008. That list includes Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger as well as former UCLA standouts Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook and the Lakers' Lamar Odom.

Orlando's Dwight Howard was so enamored with the place that he asked coach Stan Van Gundy if the Magic could practice there when they were in L.A. during the 2008 NBA Finals. Van Gundy petitioned the league but was turned down.

It's appropriate that so many basketball stars have come to call the place home when its proprietor, Herdman, stands 6-7, played college basketball at UC Irvine and then "off and on" for three years as a professional in Europe. "I always joke I got released by more teams than anyone," Herdman said with a laugh.

Before Greg Wooden took his seat below the pyramid, he reflected on how his grandfather's words echoed through his own.

"I was lucky enough because I got to go to a lot of his basketball camps growing up and I always got to listen to a lot of things he would say and really, I didn't think that much about the things he would say, the Pyramid of Success," he said. "But all of the sudden I had children and I started realizing that so many things I had learned from him throughout the years I started using with my children and it had just kind of stuck with me. So, we miss him a lot."

Information on how to donate to the HAX Foundation can be found at www.haxla.com.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. www.twitter.com/mcten.

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