John Wooden Remembered at NBA Finals
"I don't think there's anybody out there who hated John Wooden,'' Scalabrine said.
The Celtics and the Lakers played Game 1 of the NBA Finals about 10 miles from UCLA Medical Center, where Wooden, 99, was reported by several media outlets to be in grave condition.
Tributes were heard throughout the Staples Center about Wooden. There was reverence for the coach, who steered UCLA to 10 NCAA titles before retiring after his final one in 1975.
"It's really sad,'' said Boston coach Doc Rivers, who listed Wooden along with Red Auerbach and Muhammad Ali as among people he can name on one hand he's asked for an autograph. "I wish we all were that good, that decent. Forget the coaching part.
"He's a legend. If there's a coaching logo, at least in college, he's it. He's the Jerry West (who's on the NBA logo). I admire him more because he's such a decent human being. At 48, I'd like to be as sharp as he was yesterday."
Well into his 90s, Wooden has been offering advice to players about basketball and life. It didn't matter if they went to UCLA or USC.
"I met Wooden in Anaheim,'' Scalabrine said of playing for USC at the John R. Wooden Classic in December 1999. "I was just so inspired by him. Because of who he was and who I was at that time. He was giving me pointers. ... He was telling me, 'When you play inside, you need to get your hands up more.' ... It was just amazing that he was so dialed up at that time, especially when there are 50 players better than me in college at that time.''
Scalabrine at first compared Wooden to Celtics legend Auerbach, who died in 2006, as being the most revered figure ever in basketball. But then Scalabrine admitted that, unlike Wooden, "there are people out there that hated Red Auerbach.''
Scalabrine said then-USC coach Henry Bibby had Wooden's legendary "Pyramid of Success" on the wall in his office. Scalabrine said Bibby, who had played for Wooden at UCLA, advised players all the time to heed the Wooden formula for having success in life.
Hall of Famer Bill Walton, whose son Luke Walton is a Lakers forward, also played for Wooden at UCLA and attended Game 1. Although he didn't want to speak about Wooden's condition or go in-depth on his feelings, he said "we all have love'' for the coach at UCLA from 1948-75.
Lakers guard Jordan Farmar is the only player on the Lakers or Celtics to have played at UCLA. Although Farmar was with the Bruins from 2004-06, well after Wooden retired, he said the Hall of Famer always was a presence.
"I know him pretty well,'' Farmar said. "He was there a lot. He'd come to a lot of the games and I just told him what he represents is kind of the reason why you want to go to UCLA. ... He's just a figure. He was always there.
"I saw him last year. We did a little speaking engagement together, and it was pretty cool. He still preaches the same message that he preached. ... He's a great teacher. ... (His hospitalization) is unfortunate, but he's had a great life. Anybody who's almost 100 years old, and he has touched so many people and to be such an influence.''
No college basketball coach even has won half as many titles as Wooden. In the NBA, only one man has that many championships, and Phil Jackson was at the Staples Center on Thursday.
"He established a goal that is unreachable in college sports, obviously,'' the Lakers coach, who also has won 10 titles, said of Wooden. "And held it to such a standard that we all appreciated his teaching and his mentoring of his college students. ... His coaching has been an inspiration to all of us coaches.''
NBA commissioner David Stern addressed the media before Thursday's game. But he believed it was premature to talk about Wooden in depth.
"We discussed it at length,'' Stern said of NBA officials. "And we decided that we would not declare his obituary now, other than to say that he's the winningest coach in our history, four 30-0 seasons, and the ultimate aficionado of our game. We hope he's in peace right now, and we'll wait on events.''
The list of players Wooden mentored at UCLA reads like an NBA All-Star team. In addition to Walton, other future pro stars he coached included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Marques Johnson, Sidney Wicks, Swen Nater, Jamaal Wilkes, Walt Hazzard and Curtis Rowe.
But even if you went to USC, Wooden was willing to give you advice. Well, maybe only after he retired.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson