Memories and lessons from the John Wooden Basketball Camp


wooden007.jpgFive days doing nothing but playing basketball. To me as a skinny little fourth grader growing up in Los Angeles, it sounded like nirvana.

The John Wooden basketball camp. I didn’t expect anything but a week of playing my favorite sport, and it was summer so I certainly didn’t expect to learn anything. That was for school and catechism. I expected to go and just have fun and show off my jump shot, which was way better than any of the other kids in my class. Wooden was going to be impressed.

“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”

My parents loaded me and a brand new pair of Pony high tops in the Chevy Nova and off we went to the Cal Lutheran campus in Thousand Oaks. Of course I knew who John Wooden was — he was the coach who didn’t lose. Or at least it seemed that way. Los Angeles loved UCLA basketball and worshiped Wooden. A guy who could have had anything he wanted in Los Angeles but luxuriated in a simple life with his family.

So there we were on the first day of drills, a couple hundred kids in a huge gym, and in walks Coach Wooden. This isn’t like so many camps today, where the name that draws kids to the camp walks in on the last day, gives a speech, shakes some hands, takes his check and moves on. Wooden was there, hands on, every day.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

We were ready for some basketball. We were ready to play. And he told us to sit down and take off our shoes and socks. What? UCLA legend Marcus Johnson would come to speak to us later and ask if he started the camp with learning how to put on our socks and shoes. He had done it, too. When the UCLA players showed up for the first day of practice, Wooden went through the same thing with his highly recruited players. Learn how to put on your socks and shoes properly so you reduced blisters and foot problems.

Start at the beginning and make sure you get the little things right. It is just one of the many lessons I still carry over to this day from those camps. Things I try to apply to my life now.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Two summers I went to the Wooden camp and it remains some of the best memories of my childhood. I remember friends and I playing jokes on each other at meals (leaving to go to the bathroom during breakfast was a big mistake, your food would not be edible upon your return). I remember the session spent going over the Pyramid of Success. I remember the Dallas Cowboys having training camp there at the same time and thinking I didn’t know people could be so big.

I remember Swen Nater speaking to us and halfway through the talk reaching up and grabbing the net with his hands — feet still flat on the floor — and leaning on it like it was a lamppost. At that point, he could have given us the secret to becoming an NBA player, the secret to making our parents feed us ice cream for dinner every night, and we never would have heard it. We were amazed and no words entered our ears.

And I remember the basketball. Lots of basketball. On indoor courts and outdoor ones, against players often better, but holding my own. I remember it was about sportsmanship after every game. I remember spending an hour with one of the young coaches reworking my jumpshot form. For Wooden, it was always about doing things the right way. To this day my form is pretty good. (Note: good form is no predictor of shot accuracy.)

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

Years later, while working my way through college waiting tables in Northridge, I worked at a restaurant Wooden used to come in to semi-regularly. We were careful to sit him in a place where other guests would not bother him.

Like most people growing up in Los Angeles, I’m pretty unaffected by famous people. Wooden was different. I went up to him near the end of his meal and said thank you. He asked me about college and what my plans were and how I liked working part time as a high school sports stringer at the Daily News. I refilled his tea. He was the kind of person that when you talked to them you felt like the only person in the room. I’m terrible at that, but I remember that moment and try to be better about it.

Fast forward to this past Thursday night, me pushing to get stories done after Game 1 of the Lakers Celtics. I instinctively told myself, “be quick, don’t hurry.” Maybe my favorite and the most useful Woodenism. Many other ones that are part of the running dialogue in my head. I still think of those lessons.

Like so many people who crossed paths with John Wooden, I went in expecting one thing and came out with lessons that lasted a lifetime. Things that didn’t sink in to a fourth-grader but do to a guy still around the game every day in another capacity. To a guy who is a husband. To a guy who is a father. To a guy who wants to be a better person.

Thank you Coach Wooden. For everything.

LeBron James says he rides a motorcycle

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LeBron James appeared in a GQ video, and as one of the hosts discussed his leather jacket, LeBron noted he should’ve ridden his motorcycle to the set. It seemed the Cavaliers star might have been joking, but a few seconds later, he explicitly said he owned a different, three-wheel motorcycle.

Asked what the team thinks of his riding, LeBron said:

Oh, man. They’re like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “What you think I’m doing? I’m getting a breath of fresh air. You know? I’ve got one life with this, man. So, that’s what I’m doing.”

It’s impossible to think of an NBA player riding a motorcycle without Jay Williams coming to mind.

Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in 2002, crashed his motorcycle after his rookie season and suffered career-ending injuries. The tragedy caused him to attempt suicide.

Thankfully, Williams – a college basketball analyst – appears to be doing better now. But that incident has left increased scrutiny on NBA players riding motorcycles.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement states (emphasis mine):

Accordingly, the Player agrees that he will not, without the written consent of the Team, engage in any activity that a reasonable person would recognize as involving or exposing the participant to a substantial risk of bodily injury including, but not limited to: (i) sky-diving, hang gliding, snow skiing, rock or mountain climbing (as distinguished from hiking), rappelling, and bungee jumping; (ii) any fighting, boxing, or wrestling; (iii) driving or riding on a motorcycle or moped; (iv) riding in or on any motorized vehicle in any kind of race or racing contest; (v) operating an aircraft of any kind; (vi) engaging in any other activity excluded or prohibited by or under any insurance policy which the Team procures against the injury, illness or disability to or of the Player, or death of the Player, for which the Player has received written notice from the Team prior to the execution of this Contract; or (vii) participating in any game or exhibition of basketball, football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, or other team sport or competition. If the Player violates this Paragraph 12, he shall be subject to discipline imposed by the Team and/or the Commissioner of the NBA.

It’s hard to see the Cavaliers restricting LeBron on anything like this. They practically let him write his own contract – two-year max with a player option and trade kicker – annually so he can keep collecting as the salary cap rises. If he requested a clause allowing him to ride a motorcycle, would they really say no?

On the other hand, I doubt they want their franchise player taking any undue risks. It’s worth noting, though, that Williams wasn’t wearing a helmet and didn’t have a license. Maybe the Cavaliers could accept LeBron riding in a safer manner.

But if they didn’t consent and LeBron is riding a motorcycle, what would the consequences be? They’re not voiding his contract. It’d be up to the team and Adam Silver to determine punishment, and I don’t recall any precedent for that type of violation.

76ers owner: Brett Brown deserves an ‘A’

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Only one person in NBA history has coached as many games as Brett Brown and had a worst winning percentage.

The 76ers coach, who sports a 37-127 record, is trumped by just Brian Winters. Winters went 36-148 with the expansion Grizzlies and during interim stint guiding the Warriors.

Brown is entering the third season of his four-year contract, and Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie has been mum about an extension.

76ers owner Josh Harris is taking a similar approach, but he also says a lot of nice things about Brown.

Harris, via John Finger of CSN Philly:

“It’s probably not appropriate for me to talk about specifics about what the negotiations are with him,” Harris said during a media conference on Thursday at the team’s training camp at Stockton College.

“I give Brett an A for the job he’s done,” Harris said. “He’s been an incredible player development person, which is what we need at this point in time. He’s a great person to be around. He’s enthusiastic and he’s a born coach and a leader of men. I’m very impressed with Brett and I hope and expect Brett to be around the team for a very long time.”

Brown has done a fantastic job keeping this team engaged through losing and developing its young players. It’s not his fault Philadelphia stinks. Tanking is an organizational decision.

But the 76ers aren’t tanking forever, and soon, they’ll require a different type of coaching.

Is Brown up for it? No idea. He hasn’t had any chance to prove it.

After all he’s done, though, he probably deserves a chance to find out.