Henry Bibby Remembers “His Father”

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man given. Be grateful. Conceit is self given. Be careful. John Robert Wooden (1910-2010)

John Robert Wooden was a man who came from humble beginnings never forgetting, in his 99 years on this Earth, where he came from.

Wooden was taught humility by his father, Joshua, who he called the wisest man he’s ever known. In turn, he passed his father’s wisdom on to the two children he and his beloved wife and true love, Nell, had together.

That wisdom was passed down to seven grand-children and 13 great grand-children.

But, it didn’t stop there.

Wooden passed what his father taught him down to the hundreds of student-athletes he coached from Dayton High School in Kentucky, to South Bend Central High School in Indiana, to Indiana State University, to UCLA.

How fortunate they all are.

Friend. Caring. Honest. Grateful. The most humble person you‘ll ever know. Father figure. The best coach.

That’s how former UCLA point guard Henry Bibby described Wooden just a few hours before the legendary Bruins coach passed away from natural causes. Wooden had been at Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA in grave condition for 10 days.

I saw him last weekend. Bibby said. He said to me, ‘Henry, I love you.’ I told him, I love you too, coach.


From 1970 to 1972, Bibby honed basketball skills Wooden taught as the starting point guard for three of UCLA’s 10 National Championship teams under Wooden.

Coach was always so humble. With all our success, he never took the credit. For him it was all about the players who were part of the team.

And like all of Coach Wooden’s players, he learned more than basketball skills, Bibby learned life skills.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re honest with others. Treat people the same and live by your word.

A native of North Carolina, Bibby was being recruited by Norm Sloan at North Carolina State and UCLA. Wooden paid him a recruiting visit along with Kenny Washington, a guard on the Bruins first two National Champions under Coach Wooden.

Of course, the rest is Bruins history and the beginning of an incredible relationship for Bibby.

From learning the proper way of putting on socks and lacing sneakers to avoid blisters, to absorbing philosophies like failing to prepare is preparing to fail or be quick, but don’t hurry to learning a Pyramid of Success for life on and off the court, Bibby learned well.

He educated me and continued to be ’my father’ throughout my entire career.

Bibby went on to have a successful nine-year career in the NBA playing for four different teams including winning a World Championship in his rookie season with the New York Knickerbockers.*

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

After his playing days were over, Bibby began a successful head coaching career in the Continental Basketball Association culminating with nine years at the University of Southern California, UCLA’s arch and cross-town rival. Bibby led the Trojans to three tournament appearances including an Elite Eight appearance in 2001.

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

Upon his hiring by USC in 1996, Bibby recalled a conversation he had with Coach Wooden.

I told him I’d have a limo pick him up at his house and drive him to and from the Sports Arena if he would come to some games. He laughed and said, ‘Henry, You WON’T get me to a USC game.’


Bibby’s coached the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and has been an assistant coach for a number of NBA teams including his current position with Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies.

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

Often sharing the lessons Coach Wooden taught him as a teenager way back in the 70s to players he’s coached through the years, Bibby said simply,

I owe my entire career to coach Wooden. I’m so grateful to have him in my life. He‘ll always be with me.

Coach Wooden will be with all of us, always. For proof, seek out his players or read the words of a current UCLA student whose parents probably never saw Wooden coach.

Wooden was a coach to all of us. He just used basketball as his vehicle to teach us.

*Bibby’s one of only four players to win an NCAA Title and NBA Title in back-to-back years. The other three are Bill Russell, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Billy Thompson.


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~ by Eric Geller on June 5, 2010.

One Response to “Henry Bibby Remembers “His Father””

  1. […] Coach Wooden’s death are the personal stories I am hearing and viewing, whether on the news, sports blogs, Facebook walls … honorable men and cynical commentators have been brought to tears […]

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