We say, ‘hello,’ and I say, ‘good-bye’

Published 1:14 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

COMMENTARYFunny, how hellos so often come with good-byes.

This is hello from me, the new sports guy at the Tryon Daily Bulletin. Im John, at this point a wily veteran in the ever-changing newspaper business. I grew up just a few miles away, down highways 176 and 357, wandered countless others and have returned home with plans to retire my frequent-flyer account.

So, hello.

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I wont bore you with the resume, but I will say that one of the thrills of my professional career was the chance on a couple of occasions to meet and interview John Wooden, the iconic coach who died this past weekend at the age of 99.

Woodens death was no surprise. His health had been failing for quite a while, but it didnt make good-bye any easier, probably because all of us know there will never be another like him.

You have to understand what big-time college basketball has become since Woodens UCLA teams dominated the sport with names such as Walton and Alcindor. Now, college basketball is a mega-bucks lottery ticket for coaches, players and hangers-on via shoe companies or club teams. It can be a dirty business. Its an ego-driven business filled with Armani suits and slick haircuts.

Schools are too desperate to win. So desperate, in fact, that they will sully what was a sterling reputation to jump into cahoots with a cheat and do most anything for a flirty glance from Nike, whose shoes shod the players that come from the companys all-star camps and games.

I fear that a todays Wooden would be trampled en route to March Madness his folksy wisdom considered trite, his Pyramid for Success too much work in a world of overnight sensations before he ever had a chance to establish a dynasty that included 10 national championships. By comparison, no one else has half as many. Dukes Mike Krzyzewski has four, tying Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp.

A pragmatic Hoosier from northern Indiana at the doorstep of Hollywood, Wooden never wavered from his beliefs in team over self and those quaint Midwestern values.

Dont mistake activity for accomplishment, he told his players.

Ability is a poor mans wealth, he told them.

I wont pretend that I knew Wooden, but we know the stories of his undying love for his teen sweetheart and wife, Nell, who died in 1985. He wrote her a love letter once a month until his vision recently failed and never slept under the covers or on her side of the bed after she died.

We know of his wisdom, and I know that Rick Pitino (see, slick hair cut and expensive suits) didnt feel like he belonged on the same podium as Wooden when promoting the Wooden Classic in Indianapolis.

I know there was a natural warmth each time I met with the Coach. He had as many questions for me as I had for him. He never stopped learning.

You cant live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you, he said.

More importantly, he never stopped teaching.