Last week I talked a little about Coach John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA from the 1950s through the 1970s. The reason I had Coach on my mind was that I was reading a book about him and the seven principles by which he lived his life.
I’m sorry I will not share those principles with you in this column, but I think the newspaper and I would rather not face a copyright suit, so you will just have to buy the book (or read it on Kindle).
But I am reminded of a story about Coach Wooden that really tells a great deal about the man. Bill Walton, one of the two or three greatest college basketball players ever had returned to campus for his senior year at UCLA, and during the summer months he had grown a beard.
When Coach Wooden saw Bill, he reminded him that the team had a policy of no facial hair. Bill took a couple of moments to tell Coach Wooden he had decided the rule was outdated, and that his beard was an expression of who he was, and furthermore, he had no intention of shaving.
Walton said Coach looked up at him – Walton was 6 feet, 11 inches tall, while Coach was about 5-foot, 10-inches – and said, “We’re really going to miss you, Bill.”
Now, we could debate the merits of facial hair on a basketball player, and rules like that until next month, and we likely would not come to a consensus. But that brief exchange tells us a great deal about Coach John Wooden.
He had standards to which he held, and no one was above those standards. If a coach was going to bend the rules for anyone, it would have been Bill Walton. He was the best player on the best team in the nation. But Coach Wooden refused to give in. To play for him, you followed the rules.
We live in a day and age of compromise. I know there are times when this is necessary. We have to be willing to give in on certain things. But there have to be some standards that are solid. We need to be willing to take a stand and stay there, no matter what. We need to refuse to compromise on those principles that really matter. I pray that God will help us to do just that.
By the way, when I heard Bill Walton tell that story, I was curious as to what happened. The other man on the TV asked him that very question.
Walton’s answer? “I played my senior year, didn’t I?”
His friend replied, “Yeah. But did you have a beard?”
“I shaved that night,” Walton said.