What the legendary coach gets wrong about basketball.
Wooden, and our beatification of the man, has had its toxic effect on the game. It's certainly there in the NBA, which over the past year or so has hired a chief strategist of President Bush's re-election campaign to win back Middle America; instituted an absurd and paternalistic dress code (glossed nicely here); and stood idly by while Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles benched Ben Wallace, one of the hardest-working players in the game, for wearing a headband.
It is another Wooden contribution, however, that I fear will endure. He has given us the basketball moralist, someone for whom the fundamentals are themselves a kind of faith. Wooden provided a framework for linking on-court play with virtue. A bounce pass is not just fundamentally sound, but somehow morally expedient; a missed dunk is a straight path to damnation. Leave aside some of the more repellent conclusions this might lead one to—it is simply a boring and blinkered way of watching a basketball game. This, ultimately, is John Wooden's legacy: He taught us to take a profane bit of beautiful exercise and turn it into church.