Why I’ll Never Forget The Night John Wooden Died

With some media friends in town working the Dodger game last night here in L.A., I decided to hit the Ravine for the first time this season. I didn’t make the decision until late afternoon, but I’m glad I did.

Vin Scully Announces John Wooden's Passing On Los Angeles TV

I’ve only lived in Los Angeles for 11 years, so I don’t have a connection to John Wooden any more unique than most of you. But the announcement of his sad passing? That moment was, though sad, something I’ll recall for all time.

I was in the Dodger Stadium press box when the news filtered out that the greatest sports legend in Los Angeles history had died, and it just so happened that perhaps the second greatest L.A. sports legend was only a few feet away from me when word came down.

Vin Scully, as always, was on the call for the Dodgers last night and, as always, he captured the melancholy moment better than any human could expect to.

I don’t have many emotions left when it comes to sports. My perspective at this point is now more umpire or referee. (Sad, I know.) But watching Scully so effortlessly pay tribute to the greatest coach of all time raised goosebumps I thought I’d lost.

Though what was most memorable to me last night was later when I ran into the Dodger broadcasting titan for a moment as he walked out of the broadcast booth. Without hesitating, I called him, “Mr. Scully.

As the meeting was abrupt and unexpected, I addressed him that way reflexively.

At this point in my life, there’s not another person on earth that’d bring that out of me.

That brief meeting reminded me of this Marques Johnson observation found in the NEW YORK TIMES piece on Wooden today:

“He was almost a mystical figure by the time I got to U.C.L.A.,” said Johnson, a starter on Wooden’s final team. “I couldn’t really sit down and have a conversation with him about real things just because I had so much reverence for him — for who he was and what he had accomplished.”

Johnson added, “He never gave that perception that that was the way he wanted you to treat him, but it was just how it was.”

Last night for me? Same deal.