Between the time I completed my work with the Oakland Raiders and before I opened Qoxhi Picks in 1981, I worked two years in the marketing department of Home Savings and Loan. In 1980, one of our company spokespeople was legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Home Savings was a major sponsor that year for the Daryle Lamonica Gold Tournament and my assignment was to accompany Coach Wooden for the two days he visited the event.
Two days with Wooden is akin to a four-year education at a top university. In my youth, I often found myself in the presence of people that just a couple years earlier were bigger than life in the sports world. Time spent with Johnny Unitas stands out, meeting Joe Namath and Jimmy Snyder while working for Al Davis was memorable, but nothing compared to my two days with Coach Wooden.
I would pick him up at the Marriott Hotel in the morning, be at his service all day, and drive him back to his hotel at the end of the day. During the two days I became more comfortable asking him about his historic run with the UCLA Basketball team and his philosophies in building the greatest dynasty in college sports history.
On a drive from the golf course to his hotel on our second day together we had developed a relationship where I felt permission to prod him while revealing that I had always had an interest in the handicapping side of sports. In that regard, I mentioned that his teams always seemed to overcome spots on their schedule where others would likely stumble. I mentioned a couple examples where they would win a huge game over Houston or North Carolina and while most teams would then be flat in their next game, particularly if it was against an overmatched opponent, his teams wouldn’t.
They could go from beating North Carolina to crushing Oregon State while seemingly not governed by the highs and lows of almost every other team.
Wooden smiled, and said, “That’s because I never had my boys focused on their opponents, but rather on themselves. If we played a tough game and lost, but my boys knew they had given their very best, I wanted them to sleep well that night. But, even if we won decisively, but one of my players knew he hadn’t given his all, I wanted him to wrestle with how he could allow that to happen, and even lose sleep over it.”