Anyway, does it matter, this winning of games? Of course, for the moment, for the glory, for the fun of it, it is somewhat better than losing games. But does it count in the way that coaches—most of them, at least—swear that it does? Does it add to the quality of life, make for better Americans? Should we get bumper stickers made up saying: WINNERS MAKE BETTER.... What? What exactly do winners do besides win? This is not an original puzzlement. As far back as 22 centuries ago, one of the wiser Greeks concluded, "Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories." Which is to say that sometimes the AP and UPI polls cannot agree on who, much less what, is No. 1.
Surely, winning must be more delicate, less crucial than it is made to seem in the pernicious credo of Vince Lombardi. If the necessity of winning were that critical, it would be too burdensome; we'd have to drop it by the wayside and forget about it altogether. And that doesn't seem to be the case. It appears that both the joy and the value of winning endure. Curiously, it might be that this is even more dear to those who only stood and watched others take up the challenge. "It's embarrassing," says Kenny Washington, who helped UCLA win a lot of games, "but oftentimes, still, people come up and tell you how your accomplishments give them fond memories. That's the hardest part of the hero thing."
For those who were in the fray, it seems that if you do win, victory itself does not remain as cherished as the trying. But when you do try and don't win, then what you have failed to achieve looms more imposingly than how valiantly you tried. This means, if it is true, that nobody ever really wins. You win only as a way to validate effort, to justify the foolishness of that grand contradiction, playing hard. Anyway...
Anybody who has a long career—even just high school and college, that's long—would have a gap if they never won a championship. No one could feel complete as an athlete.
—JEFF MULLINS, All-America, Duke '64
UCLA basketball is now synonymous with victory. In the fall of 1963, however, UCLA had never won a national title, and John Wooden was an unassuming fellow who had been kicking around for years. The team had a center who stood just 6'5". There was only one bona fide star, but he was a passer, not a big man or a big scorer. There were no JC transfers, and the sophomores read that "no help was expected" from the freshman team. The Bruins were unranked.
Then they went undefeated, 30-0, whipping Duke in the NCAA championship game. That started the whole business. UCLA repeated the next year, and then Lew Alcindor came across the country and enrolled. Very quickly the Bruins became what is called a dynasty and Wooden a legend in his own time. UCLA won 10 titles in the last dozen years Wooden coached, through 1975, and no doubt it will win more, such being the bent of dynasties.
There were seven regulars on that '64 club. It is 15 years later, and they're all grown men, in their mid-30s, old enough to look back with maturity and perspective, yet not so old as to get all soupy and sentimental. They are a good bunch to talk to, too, because there was no dominant player. They all figured in the action. They pressed all over the court, and needed each other to get the job done. The '64 Bruins were as good at playing as a team as any club you'll ever see.
They were, too, quite different from one another. "They really didn't get along that well except on the court," Wooden recalls. Doug McIntosh, the backup center, is a minister near Atlanta now, and he has sometimes gone to Hawks' games when Gail Goodrich, the leading scorer for the '64 Bruins, has come to town with the opposition. McIntosh is married to one of Goodrich's old girl friends. "I saw Gail play a few games, and I thought about going down to see him after the game, but...." McIntosh shrugs. The connection was the team.
They came from all over. Goodrich was the only one who had spent his whole life in Southern California. One was a high school star in Kansas, although he was a native Californian; a couple were country boys from Kentucky and South Carolina; there was a Jewish kid who grew up in Brooklyn; and there was Walt Hazzard, the leader, the street-smart reverend's son from Philly. One was married. Two or three drank beer. There were three seniors, two juniors, two sophs; three blacks, four whites. Only a couple of them had been heavily recruited. None had ever heard of Madame Nhu or Ho Chi Minh. One of them fell in love with a cheerleader that winter.
In the 15 years that have rushed by, here is what has happened to them. Three played pro ball and four didn't. One of the seven served in the Army. The one who was married got divorced and remarried, and five of the other six have married and remain so. There is one bachelor. The two who would seem to have accomplished the most outside basketball are the two centers, who were the least accomplished as players. They are also the only two who are overweight. Six have graduated, one only last year, and another is now finishing law school at night. One is "semiretired." One smokes little cigars. Two underwent religious conversions. Only one left Southern California. All told, they have 18 children, ages 14 to two. By and large they don't care much for competition, having had quite enough, and by and large they are happy. They don't think winning the national championship has meant much to their lives in the long run. They say it has had nothing to do with their being happy. Much more than the title, they remember each other and the coach, and when they were brought back to UCLA the other day to pose for the group picture on pages 70-71, they all acted much the way they had 15 years ago, which is to say that the quiet ones were silent, the leader took charge, the cynic looked askance, the observers observed, and, in the end, they all worked it out.