Kitty Felde |

Interviewing John Wooden

I was really nervous. There aren't a lot of people who intimidate me when I have a microphone in my hand. But the prospect of interviewing John Wooden made my knees quake. Growing up in Southern California, he was God - a man who could manufacture championships out of air and command respect from the tallest men on the court.

I met him at his favorite breakfast haunt - nothing fancy, just a neighborhood joint in the Valley. But everybody knew him. He had time for every person who wanted a moment with him, signing a book or a T-shirt, offering a word of advice, shaking a hand, posing for a picture.

He welcomed me as though he'd been waiting his entire life to meet me. There was a courtliness about him, a gentleman from another era. He never said it out loud, but I felt a bit like the "little lady" I suspect he thought of me rather than the seasoned reporter. It was like interviewing a Norman Rockwell grandfather.

Over eggs and coffee at his usual table, surrounded by his usual breakfast club of cronies, he talked about his coaching philosophy for basketball and life. He was generous with his time. But when the toast was cleared away and the coffee grew cold, it was time to go.

I watched him thread his way through well-wishers, signing another book, sharing another story, shaking another hand.

Somehow I suspected Coach Wooden was just as busy, but he still met with some of those young men he coached so many years ago, proud of the way they turned out.

Link: 2004 interview with John Wooden