UCLA’s legendary Coach John Wooden to be honored with postage stamp

Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez | 

 

Key takeaways

  • A Forever stamp featuring John Wooden will be issued by the U.S. Postal Service in early 2024.
  • Commemorative stamps “honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment.”
  • The new stamp’s unique design and blue and gold colors pay tribute to Wooden’s unmatched success at UCLA and his enduring legacy.

Bruin fans may soon be tempted to do some old-fashioned letter-writing when the U.S. Postal Service issues a new stamp memorializing UCLA’s iconic former men’s basketball coach John Wooden.

The limited edition Forever stamp, featuring an original portrait of Wooden, will go on sale early next year and is expected to be available for about a year. A total of 18 million will be printed, according to the post office.

Wooden, who began his career at UCLA in 1948 and retired in 1975, led the Bruins to a record 10 national championships and left an indelible mark on the university, the sport and a generation of student athletes. Even after his coaching days ended, his insightful lessons on basketball and living a successful life continued to inspire legions of fans and admirers around the world. Wooden died in 2010 at the age of 99.

“This stamp is a tribute to Coach Wooden’s remarkable and widespread impact, which extends far beyond UCLA and far beyond basketball,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “His success on the court was unparalleled, and he remains a model of integrity and excellence in athletics. But the values he stood for and the timeless wisdom he shared have spread even further, influencing generations of leaders from all walks of life.”

The new stamp depicts Coach Wooden at courtside in the early 1970s, intensely focused on a game and wearing a pinstripe suit, patterned tie and black-framed glasses. To the right of the image, which is based on a photo by ASUCLA photographer Norm Schindler, “Wooden” appears in gold, with “John” in blue.

In the stamp’s background, one player attempts a jump shot as another tries to block it; their jersey numbers, 4 and 10, signify the Bruins’ four undefeated seasons under Wooden — 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973 — and the 10 NCAA championships, including seven in a row, his teams won over the 12-season span from 1964 to 1975. Neither accomplishment has ever been bested, and the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak between 1971 and 1974 remains the longest in the history of men’s college basketball.

A mentor to his teams both on and off the court, Wooden did as much to prepare his players for life as for games. He rarely talked about winning. “Success,” he said, “is making the effort to do the best you can do,” and he gave shape to his philosophy with his motivational Pyramid of Success, a model built upon tenets including loyalty, friendship and team spirit. After retiring from coaching, Wooden continued teaching through speaking engagements and a series of popular books that outlined the importance of personal excellence, integrity and a life guided by strong principles.

Inspired by those very principles, Wooden pushed back against racial barriers in college basketball. While coaching Indiana State in 1947, he turned down a tournament invitation from the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball that excluded Clarence Walker, the only Black player on the roster.

In his 2004 autobiography, “My Personal Best,” Wooden wrote: “The NAIB wanted me to tell Clarence to stay home while his fellow team members … enjoyed the benefits of what the team had achieved. The answer was easy: ‘No.’” Wooden was also known in those years for his refusal to patronize segregated restaurants, choosing instead to make sandwiches on the team bus.

 

In 2003, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

 

Wooden, who in 2006 had a post office in Reseda, California, named for him, is the second college basketball coach to be honored with a postage stamp, the first being James Naismith, the game’s inventor, who received a stamp in 1961. Coincidentally, Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a Purdue University player (1929–32) just a year prior, in 1960. In 1973, he was again a Naismith Hall of Fame inductee, this time as a coach — becoming the first person to be recognized in both roles.

During his career, Wooden — known widely as the “Wizard of Westwood” and to Bruins simply as “Coach” — was named the NCAA’s College Basketball Coach of the Year six times. The John Wooden Center on the UCLA campus, the Nell and John Wooden Court in Pauley Pavilion, and the UCLA Anderson School of Management’s John Wooden Global Leadership Award are named in his honor. A bronze statue of Wooden, erected in 2012, stands at the north entrance to Pauley.

The Postal Service’s commemorative stamps are intended to celebrate the American experience and “honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment.” Individuals and subjects are proposed by the public, and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee reviews submissions and recommends a number each year for approval by the U.S. postmaster general. Forever stamps can be used as postage in perpetuity.

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