John Wooden's Pyramid Still Standing

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden may have created his Pyramid of Success nearly 60 years ago, but many of his former players, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, say it's still relevant in their daily lives.

At the age of 96, living in Encino, California and making 20 to 30 speeches a year, former UCLA coach John Wooden still keeps in touch with more players than he could name in one breath, including Bill Walton, Andy Hill, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Keith Erickson, Keith Wilkes, Mike Warren, Kenny Washington and John Vallely. And those are just the ones he has breakfast with on a regular basis. But that only seems natural for a leader whose "Pyramid of Success" includes friendship, loyalty and team spirit as three of its 15 blocks.

Wooden has been called the greatest college coach in history thanks to a long list of accomplishments, including a record 10 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship titles. But for him, it's not about the number of wins and losses: It's about how the game is played.

In fact, his players say they don't recall their coach ever stressing the importance of winning a game. For Wooden, it was about sticking to the fundamentals. "On the first day of practice, I remember him saying, 'I'm not going to be talking to you about winning or losing because I think that's a byproduct of our preparation. I would much rather be focused on the process of becoming the best team we're capable of becoming,'" says John Vallely, who played under Wooden on the 1969 and 1970 UCLA national championship basketball teams.

  • Andy Hill on how Coach Wooden helped him become a good leader
  • Coach Wooden on how he created his definition of success
  • Coach Wooden on what he's most proud of
  • John Vallely on how the Pyramid of Success applies to all aspects of life
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the importance of preparation and the fundamentals
  • Bill Walton on what Coach Wooden has taught him about basketball and life

Building the Pyramid of Success
Wooden's famous philosophy on coaching and life has become ingrained in the minds of his former players and continues to guide many of their lives today. But Wooden didn't create the pyramid with basketball in mind; he worked on it over a 14-year-period, aiming to create a new definition of success. While teaching high school English, he saw parents criticizing their children for receiving less than an "A" or "B." That's when he knew he needed to find a way to pass on his message that success isn't just about how much stuff you have or how powerful you've become; it's about finding peace of mind.

After completing the pyramid in 1948 while coaching at Indiana State University, Wooden coined his definition of success as, "Peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable." Wooden says that even though he had new ideas about the pyramid throughout its building years, the cornerstones--industriousness and enthusiasm--have always remained constant.

But he adds that the strongest part of the pyramid, in his coaching experience, is the very heart of it: condition, skill and team spirit. "I've always had very well-conditioned teams. For my drills, I didn't do them by running a lot, just by creating drills that were competitive and consistent, day after day," Wooden says.

It's those very drills and practices that Wooden finds himself missing the most since retiring from UCLA in 1975. "I haven't missed the games; I haven't missed the tournaments," he says. "I've missed the daily practices, because that's where you got to know your players and got the chance to establish rapport that you hoped would be lasting."

A Lasting Team
Even Wooden probably didn't expect the level of rapport he ended up building with his former players, many of whom are still working to spread his message. Bill Walton, who played for Wooden from 1972 to 1974 on two NCAA championship teams, now works as a broadcaster for ESPN, but finds time to speak to others about Wooden's life lessons. "John Wooden and the pyramid are there so much, they've become a part of me," he says. "That's when you know that it's your job to become a teacher and pass that message on."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known as Lew Alcindor during his playing days at UCLA from 1966 to 1969, says he incorporates aspects of Wooden's philosophy into his own coaching as a special assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. "My approach, for example, with Andrew Bynum, follows along the same lines of Coach Wooden's teachings of preparation and grasping the fundamentals, and I've tried to help him develop the basics he needs to continue improving," Abdul-Jabbar says.

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As Entrepreneur.com's staff writer, Kristin Edelhauser writer features, blogs and other pieces for the site. She previously worked as a writer and researcher for the NBC San Diego affiliate.

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