Upon returning home that day, Wooden opened a copy of Practical Modern Basketball. He turned to the section titled "Handling Your Players," crossed out "Handling" and wrote in "Working With." He phoned his publisher and asked that the change be made in all subsequent printings.
"John was a better coach at 55 than he was at 50," says Pete Newell, the former coach at Cal and San Francisco, who has known Wooden for more than 40 years. "He was a better coach at 60 than at 55. He's a true example of a man who learned from day one to day last."
In the outer lobby of the old Martinsville High gym hangs a picture of the Artesians' 1927 state championship team. "Gone," says Wooden, pointing to the player in the top left-hand corner. "Gone, gone, gone, gone," he continues, moving his finger from teammate to teammate. "Almost gone," he says, his finger finally coming to rest on his likeness.
When speaking engagements take him east, he'll route himself through Indianapolis, rent a car, drive the highway south and slip into the various graveyards around Martinsville, where his and Nell's forebears are buried. At each one he'll say a prayer. The neighboring gravestones are graced with names like Way and Byroad and Schoolcraft, names that sound as if they came from a novel about Puritans.
His preoccupation with death lifts only when Cori, 3, and her cousin. John, who's pushing three, come by to visit. Cori is the philosophical one, and little John is the instigator. It was John who got Papa, as they call their great-grandfather, to turn off all the lights and play a flashlight game that the kids call Ghostbusters. Nell must have been cackling from behind the credenza.
Meanwhile, over the hill in Westwood, a variation of the same game goes on. "The problem we're having is John Wooden," a Bruin named Kenny Fields said a few years ago. "He won too much. Now our fans can't accept anything less."
Wooden has scrupulously avoided commenting on the performance of any of his many successors. Indeed. Harrick says he has to crowbar advice out of him. Watch Wooden watching the Bruins, from his second-row seat across from the UCLA bench, occasionally with Cori and John scrambling around him: He claps rhythmically to the pep band during timeouts, but otherwise he betrays little reaction to the basketball before him.
Wooden won't say this explicitly, but the man UCLA should have hired back in 1975, the man the old coach praises whenever he has a chance, is Louisville's Denny Crum. That single move might have forestalled all the Bruins' recent travails. But Morgan refused to consider him as Wooden's replacement simply because Crum, a former UCLA player and assistant coach, had been divorced. Such were the impossible standards of John's and Nell's legacy.
So we come to the lesson of the peaks and the valleys. If you should catch one of those Final Four historical shows on late-night cable, be sure to study Wooden's Bruins in victory. They're happy campers, storming the floor and cutting down the nets, but always they hold something back. "Of course, I will have reminded them in a timeout," says Wooden, "for every artificial peak you create there is a valley. I don't like valleys. Games can be lost in them."
He had seen Phil Woolpert win back-to-back national championships at San Francisco in 1955 and '56 and then struggle in the crucible of trying to keep winning. Then he saw Ed Jucker also win two in a row, at Cincinnati in '61 and '62, only to leave coaching because of similar pressure. That's when he resolved never to exult unduly in victory or to languish in defeat. "One's life," he says, "should be the same."