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He who is really kind can never be unhappy. He who is really wise can never be confused. He who is really brave is never afraid.

Kindness, wisdom and bravery—what a great combination.

On March 29, 1975 in San Diego, Coach Wooden found himself in a bit of a pickle. It was the semifinal game for the national championship and UCLA trailed Louisville 74-73 with 20 seconds to go in overtime.

UCLA had the ball, and there was a timeout. Coach Wooden would have to decide which player would take the final shot. We would all expect Coach Wooden to be wise, his teams had already won nine national championships; and brave, he was well known as a fearless competitor. But for Coach Wooden, kindness also entered the equation in making this selection.

Always considerate of others, Coach wanted to make sure he picked a player whom, if he missed the final shot, would not be crushed emotionally, feeling that he had choked and blown UCLA’S chance for a 10th national championship.

Coach chose his skilled but easy going sophomore Richard Washington for the task.

In his book with Jay Carty, Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life, Coach expanded on his decision:

“We set up a play for Richard Washington. Afterward a reporter asked, ‘Why did you pick Washington?’ I replied, ‘Because he’s not afraid to make a mistake. He thinks he’s a pretty good shooter-and he is—but if he misses he’ll think, well, you can’t make them all.’ He won’t be devastated. Therefore, he’s harnessed his fear. The others might be thinking, I’ve got to make it. If that’s their thinking, they’ll be fearful about missing. I didn’t want that. I went with Richard.”

Richard Washington made a baseline jump shot with two seconds to go to win the game 75-74. On Monday night, UCLA beat Kentucky to win its 10th National Championship in John Wooden’s final game.

Coach was once asked how his former players would describe him in one word. He replied:

I hope they would say that I was very considerate of all of them. I hope they’d say I loved them all.

Indeed, he was considerate; even with the national championship on the line, there was no doubt about the love.

Photo by @usmfalina/Twenty20.com

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.