John Wooden (October 14, 1910-June 04, 2010)

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! 
Comments (3)

3 Responses to “John Wooden (October 14, 1910-June 04, 2010)”

  1. Greg says:

    Nice post Dave. Enjoyed the nostalgia


  2. Anna White says:

    Hi Dave,
    My name is Anna, Milt Smith’s grandaughter. My sister, Sarah, sent me this post (our mom is Barbara Smith). Thank you for your post. That’s a great story and great representation of our grandpa. This means a lot to my family, and especially to my son. My son’s 15 and my grandpa gave him his copy of the pyramid of success. Milt is pushing 91 this year, and although his memory is somewhat fading, I will let him know you still think of him.
    Thanks again!
    – the Smith family

  3. Morgan Sloane says:


    Milt died last week. His memorial service will be at the California Yacht Club and his ashes will be spread over the water. Could you tell me more about your experience with him that I could mention at the memorial? Or come yourself and tell the story! I think it will be the 27th at 3 PM.

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