I was lucky enough to meet John Wooden twice in person. When I was 21, I went to work for an LA sporting goods store at the corner of Westwood and LaConte, near the main entrance of UCLA. The owner of the store was a 1940’s UCLA football star, Milt Smith. The store had a Hermes engraving machine and we engraved some of the trophies for UCLA. Being the young guy I was, guess who did the engraving? Needless to say, it was a somewhat tedious task.
One time Milt had me engrave John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. That was the first time anyone ever made a permanent version of his masterpiece. I think the work I did 42 years ago on that pyramid still stands at UCLA.
My boss, Milt, was the kind of boss who took me along to present the plaque to Mr. Wooden. That was a great day for me, especially looking back at it now. What a wonderful person to spend a half hour with.
The second time I got to meet Wooden was to present an athlete of the week pewter mug to Lew Alcindor. Jr. (Kareem Abdul- Jabbar). Believe it or not, we are almost exactly the same age! Why in the world we presented college athletes a beer mug each week is my question now. It seemed ok to me when I was 21. Incidentally, my own daughter Kristen is now a student at UCLA. (proud father.)
Two things stand out to me as I remember those occasions.
- The first of course was what a nice guy Mr. Wooden was. Everybody either called him Mr. Wooden, or just coach.
- The second is something I still try to practice today. That was that Milt Smith, my mentor and boss, asked me to join him to present the plaque I engraved to Mr. Wooden. He didn’t have to bring me, the lowly engraver, along on those trips, but he thought it would be nice for me to meet someone he knew well and admired. Now there was a man ahead of his time and someone worth emulating!