College basketball’s high holy season kicks off this week, the commencement of its popular 68-team tournament that will culminate with the Final Four and the crowning of NCAA’s basketball champion on April 8th in Minneapolis.
Affectionately known as “March Madness” for the dizzying assortment of dramatic games and inevitable bracket-busting upsets, the three-week stretch is a favorite time for many, a bridge from winter to spring and a final chance to watch young men chase boyhood dreams, many for the last time before their graduation.
In the pantheon of college basketball, nobody accomplished more on the court than the late John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary and long-time coach. Dubbed the “Wizard of Westwood” for his unprecedented 10 championships in 12 years, the Indiana native’s cerebral and simple style stands in contrast to many of today’s larger-than-life sideline personalities.
“Coach Wooden” as he was known, has been gone for almost 9 years. When he died in June of 2010 at the age of 99, the highly-acclaimed basketball genius was lauded and feted as a sage of the sport, and rightly so.
But even nearly a decade following his death, the remarkable life of John Wooden can still teach us, and especially now in the midst of culture’s madness.
Up until his death, the collegiate hall of fame coach kept a folded-up index card in his wallet. On it was a handwritten 7-point creed that his father had given him as a graduation gift from elementary school.
How instrumental of a role did that small piece of cardstock play in the life of UCLA’s coach?
According to friend and NBA executive Pat Williams, it was instrumental.
“I believe,” wrote Williams, “the character and achievements of John Wooden can largely be traced to [that] piece of paper his father gave him on the day he graduated from the eighth grade at a little country grade school in Centerton, Indiana.”
Almost 100 years later, as political, economic, sociological and even spiritual battles rage white hot, we would be wise to also heed the adages of this 7-point creed:
1. Be True to Yourself. Are you living someone else’s plan for your life? Nothing can stifle creativity like conformity and uniformity. What’s “your thing” – your unique ability? Nobody is here by accident. Everybody was placed on earth for a purpose. Be comfortable in your own skin and chase your dream.
2. Make each day your masterpiece. It almost sounds like a cliché, but everybody has the same amount of time each day (24 hours, 1440 minutes). Do you treat it like a rare gift? On average, over 150,000 people die every day. Don’t take these hours for granted. The late Bil Keane, creator of the Family Circus cartoon, once poignantly observed, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery – but today is a gift, that’s why we call it ‘the present.’” Don’t waste the day.
3. Never leave until tomorrow what can be done today. Charles Dickens once called procrastination the “thief of time” – and he was right. We so often think tomorrow is going to be an extension of today, but it’s usually not. Rather than treat time like a blank check, think about it in finite terms – because today is all we’ve got.
4. Help others. Narcissism is destructive. Care about others and practice blessed self-forgetfulness. As Dr. Tim Keller says, “Don’t think less of yourself – just think about yourself less.” Call a friend, visit someone in the hospital, pick up trash in your neighborhood or volunteer in your community.
5. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. The late pastor Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “What goes down in the well comes up in the bucket.” Be mindful of what you’re reading and watching. The apostle Paul probably put it best of all when he advised, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.”
6. Study friendship and make it a fine art. It’s been said we become the product of the five people we spend the most time with. If that’s the case, are you picking your friends or letting your friends pick you? The popular writer C.S. Lewis wrote about the origin of enjoyable company. “Friendship … is born at the moment,” Lewis noted, “when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .’” If you want to have good friends, take the time to be a good friend.
7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day. Cultivating a discipline of prayer and a spirit of gratitude will transform your life. It was Albert Einstein who once opined, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.” We are living in an age of daily miracles and many of us don’t even realize it.
As the curtain fell on his near century-long life, Coach Wooden reflected that while he tried to live up to his father's creed, he had nevertheless fallen short, saying he was more like the guy who once said, "I am not what I ought to be; Not what I want to be; Not what I am going to be, But I am thankful that I am better than I used to be."
A devout Christian, Wooden saw basketball for what it was – a game that pointed to something of greater significance in his life. "I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior."
A slip of paper with Wooden’s wisdom is now in my wallet, and it likewise reminds me that all the madness of this world is manageable – because all the madness is ultimately managed by a God who loves each one of us.