Co-founder of Wooden Award dies

Updated: June 5, 2010, 12:10 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Richard "Duke" Llewellyn, chairman and co-founder of the John R. Wooden Award that goes to college basketball's player of the year, died Friday. He was 93.

Llewellyn's longtime companion, Nancy Tew, said he died of congestive heart failure at Hollenbeck Palms, a retirement home in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles where he had been for the past week.

Working with Wooden, a friend for more than 60 years, Llewellyn founded the Wooden Award in 1976. He remained on the board through this past college basketball season, meeting with sponsors, players and staff as he battled cancer.

Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at 99.

"We are devastated to lose Duke," Los Angeles Athletic Club president Steve Hathaway said. "Quite simply, he was the Wooden Award, and symbolized everything that is right about college athletics and amateur sports. He led an incredible life having touched so many people along the way. We will miss him deeply."

Llewellyn and Wooden insisted on the award's commitment to community service. Wooden, however, stopped participating in the award ceremony in 2005 because of a trademark dispute involving his name. However, he never contested the use of his name and it remains on the award, which is presented in April at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

The award, originally given only to men's basketball players, was first presented in 1977. Starting in 2004, the award was extended to women's basketball players.

Llewellyn began at the athletic club as director of athletics in 1956 and advanced to a senior vice president position. He created Olympic training programs that led to gold medal performances for such athletes as divers Pat McCormick and Kathy Ferguson and swimmer Murray Rose of Australia.

The club's sports-themed restaurant Duke's is named for him.

Llewellyn's other contributions to sports included serving on the board of the World Boxing Hall of Fame for more than 20 years; attache for his native Bermuda at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; director of the Southern California Tennis Association; and serving as a college, high school and junior college football coach and official for several decades.

Llewellyn competed in football, basketball and track at Southern California, and placed fourth in decathlon at the 1936 U.S. Olympic trials. He played pro football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs, Hollywood Rangers, and Los Angeles Dons.

After training for combat in preparation for World War II, as a master sergeant in the Army, Llewellyn was involved in a land mine accident that damaged his leg. While sidelined, he created a sports program to help get troops in shape.

He later recovered to become a boxer in the Army, fighting exhibition matches against heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

He was a member of the 1984 Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games and spent several years in the 1950s as director of municipal sports for the city's parks and recreation department.

In addition to his companion Tew, Llewellyn is survived by sons Mark and Mike, and daughter Debby, several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are private. A celebration of his life will be held later.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press