June 4, 2010

FROM THE ARCHIVES: NONE FINER

Wooden Reward: When legendary UCLA coach receives Medal of Freedom today, he can thank McCarter, who once challenged him (Bill Plaschke, July 23, 2003, LA Times)
He was the different one. He was the wild one.

Andre McCarter was that poor, misguided UCLA Bruin who loved behind-the-back passes and double-pump reverse layups and getting in your face.

During a time when his teammates thrived in the spotlight, he was the one Coach John Wooden would sit in the corner.

"You know how, if somebody has 10 children, there is always one of them who is a real pain in the butt?" McCarter said. "That kid was me."

He was publicly embarrassed. He was quietly benched. He was harangued and harnessed, his style abruptly changed, his attitude forcibly altered.

Since leaving UCLA after the 1976 season, Andre McCarter had been thinking of a way he could pay John Wooden back for all the trouble he caused.

Today, the country will see his answer.

Today, at the White House, Wooden will receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This was not an idea from President Bush. This did not come from a California senator or representative. This was not about lobbying efforts from the NCAA or UCLA.

Wooden is receiving the medal only as a result of a secret three-year campaign by a former player who collected letters, twisted arms, made calls and pushed forward when
everyone thought he would pull back.

A guy named Andre McCarter.

It happens to be an especially worthy group that's getting the Medal this year. Here's an essay about the kind of man John Wooden is, Coach John Wooden: "A Paragon Rising above the Madness" (Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated)
On Tuesday the best man I know will do what he always does on the 21st of the month. He'll sit down and pen a love letter to his best girl. He'll say how much he misses her and loves her and can't wait to see her again. Then he'll fold it once, slide it in a little envelope and walk into his bedroom. He'll go to the stack of love letters sitting there on her pillow, untie the yellow ribbon, place the new one on top and tie the ribbon again.

The stack will be 180 letters high then, because Tuesday is 15 years to the day since Nellie, his beloved wife of 53 years, died. In her memory, he sleeps only on his half of the bed, only on his pillow, only on top of the sheets, never between, with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm.

There's never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach. [...]

One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. "It's my right," he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We're going to miss you." Walton shaved it right then and there. Now Walton calls once a week to tell Coach he loves him.
[originally posted: 7/23/03] Posted by Orrin Judd at June 4, 2010 12:22 AM
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