Abdul-Jabbar remembers Wooden

LOS ANGELES -- His flight home from Europe couldn't land soon enough. His beloved coach, John Wooden, was gravely ill in the hospital and all Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could do was hope he'd get there in time to say goodbye.

Late Friday afternoon, just hours before Wooden passed away at the age of 99, Abdul-Jabbar finally made it to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to pay his respects.

"I was overseas and I got back on Friday and went right out to the hospital to see him," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I left there about 3:15 p.m. and he only lived about three more hours so I feel very fortunate I was able to get there in time.

"He was sedated at that point, I'm not sure if he was aware I was there. So I just sat there and took the moment in, because I'd felt so fortunate to get there when I did."

Wooden was a lot more than a college basketball coach to Abdul-Jabbar. Like many of Wooden's former players, their relationship only grew as they grew older.

"He was a great teacher, and he was a molder of talent," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Basketball was just the means that he affected us, and made us deal with our character issues. Because what we'd learn on the court really did translate to our lives.

"I would say any success that I have enjoyed as a parent really came about from remembering how Coach Wooden would challenge us, let us fail, and then say, 'OK, now that you've tried it your way, this is the right way to do things.'"

Abdul-Jabbar said that Wooden has not left his thoughts or prayers in the days since his death.

"It's hard," Abdul-Jabbar said of attending Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center Sunday night. "But on the other hand it's what he would've wanted us to do because he always told us not to get too caught up in the lows or the highs. That you should try to get through life with a balance.

"He lived to be a great age and we were able to enjoy him for so long, but just in being aware of his passing we all feel the loss."

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.