How do you know when a near life-long celebrity is really, really sick? When his children issue a public press release asking fans not to ask for his autograph anymore. That’s the case with Los Angeles’ personal sports Paul Bunyan, with 98-year-old UCLA basketball figurehead John Wooden needing a respite from fan attention because of a prolonged fight against pneumonia, a sickness for which he was hospitalized back on Feb. 13.
(One of hundreds from one day. One of hundreds.)
According to the L.A. DAILY NEWS, Wooden’s children made the request to try and allow their father a full chance at recovery, a move made necessary because they claim Wooden spends hours a day signing his name to memorabilia sent both to his home address and the UCLA basketball office.
Just think about that: Even though he hasn’t been actively involved in basketball in decades, Wooden is getting hundreds of items a day to sign, and he’s too dedicated to keeping his fans happy to stop doing it, so long as the mail keeps flooding in. It’s almost baffling.
Here’s the request his son and daughter, Jim Wooden and Nan Muehlhausen, sent out to the public on Tuesday:
“We appreciate the support and respect fans from all over the country have given our father over the years, but our family feels it has become necessary to make this request,” the family said in a statement. “The amount of mail Dad receives on a weekly basis is just overwhelming, and that doesn’t include the items sent to the basketball office at UCLA. Dad would try to sign every item if he could, but the number of items he is receiving has increased greatly in the last few months and the family feels it is time to make this request.”
“We hope everyone understands and respects our request,” the statement said. “Dad is 98 years old and we believe that signing his name for hours on end on a daily basis is not in his best interest.”
The saddest thing about this statement clearly is that Wooden’s children had to make it at all. It shines a light on just how much the legendary coach’s life has become like a Disney World ride. Until this year, fans would still line up during games to take pictures with him, an act that could often last the duration of the game. How would you like to be bugged by fans through an entire basketball game, every game, just to wake up and sign autographs for hours? It’s a sad existence that can really symbolize what it’s like to be an aging sports celebrity in the modern era.
Here’s hoping Wooden gets better, and that people stop bugging him for autographs soon. Yes, he’s the Wizard of Westwood, but he’s even older than Gandalf, and he needs to spend more time drinking prune juice and pulling up his Depends than he does signing his name over and over again, for his own good.