At the end of his sophomore year, Warren was called in by Wooden and confronted about his dating a white girl. Wooden told Warren he had received threatening phone calls and that Warren was doing the wrong thing.
"I would discourage anybody from interracial dating," says Wooden today. "I imagine whites would have trouble dating in an Oriental society, too. It's asking for trouble. But I've never told a player who he could or couldn't date."
"He didn't stop me," smiles Warren. "But, man, how about telling me my life is in danger? How's that for a hint?"
"I think I've had good discussions with various black members of my teams," says Wooden. "I've tried to understand and adapt. I remember when Wilt Chamberlain came out here, he told a reporter he couldn't be 'handled,' that only animals were 'handled.' I had used that term before, but I never have since. I had made a mistake. I learn more every year. But there are some things I have to stand upon."
Wooden's most recent crisis had nothing to do with race. It came at the UCLA basketball dinner last spring when, in his farewell speech, Bill Seibert, a little-used reserve forward, bitterly attacked the UCLA system as harboring "double standards," "unequal treatment" for starters and substitutes, and a "lack of communication" between the players and the coaching staff. Seibert articulated what many players in the past had felt but not said. During the speech he was shouted down and booed by alumni, but at its conclusion he received a standing ovation from his teammates. Wooden handled what was an immensely difficult situation in his usual composed manner. In truth, he was hurt more than anyone knew. In the days to follow, the team held several meetings on its own to discuss how to improve conditions. Wooden summoned individual players and requested that, if they felt as Seibert had, they leave the team.
Following this, some starters went to Wooden and asked him to stop "harassing" their fellow players, or they (the starters) would quit. The coach told one player that he himself would resign if pressured with any ultimatums from the team. "The whole thing got out of hand," says one prominent Bruin. "We told him we didn't want to challenge him. We just wanted the right to get up and say something if things were going badly. I told him we came to UCLA because we wanted him to coach basketball, not coach our private lives. He had been trying to divide us and harass us. Wooden has always said we were students first and players next. But he never considered what the ramifications of that are—that as a basketball coach, he can't control our identities."
In the end, Wooden met with the team as a unit, and Sidney Wicks, the star, spoke for everyone. "You shouldn't feel threatened by this," he said. "We're here as a team and you taught us that."
In the past few years, influenced by Alcindor, Wooden has relaxed many rules. The team no longer has to wear blazers on the road (they voted blazers down this season). Sideburns can be longer, but no beards or mustaches are allowed. Wooden no longer lobby-sits on road trips, waiting for his players to come in before curfew.
But he has not abdicated all of his positions. In the midst of the Seibert upheaval last May, the team got together and sent a telegram to the President in protest of the invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State. It was the kind of political group endeavor that Wooden staunchly disapproves of, and even now he resents the action and believes some team members were coerced into signing the telegram. It is doubtful, too, that he will ever change his mind about the heart of Seibert's complaints.
"A player gets the treatment he earns and deserves," says Wooden. "I've told some of my men that if I had an eligible daughter, I wouldn't let them near my place. Other men could visit her, but couldn't play for me. They all won't get the same breaks in life. If I treated them alike, they'd know I was lying to somebody. Seibert felt he had the right to do what he did," Wooden says, "but the boy took advantage of the situation. I didn't feel it was in good taste or polite or good manners, either."