Smith examines the remarkable college basketball dynasty of Coach John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, who won 10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975, with a focus on the profound cultural and societal changes during that period.
Few teams in any sport have achieved success comparable to what UCLA basketball did under Wooden (the “Wizard of Westwood”), including an 88-game winning streak and seven consecutive national championships. Wooden, a deeply conservative, religious Hoosier, not only transformed the sport into the commercial powerhouse it is today, but also helped transform UCLA from a second-class state school to a world-famous institution. Though he benefited from the presence on his roster of two of college basketball’s most dominating players (and unique personalities)—Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton—Wooden was able to maintain an unparalleled level of dominance with a variety of different teams. The author is less concerned with the mechanics of Wooden’s coaching strategy—though the book does include plenty of on-court action—than he is with placing the coach’s career, and those of his players, within the context of the immense upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s. In many ways, Wooden was emblematic of the conservative culture of sports, telling his players how to cut their hair and put on their socks, an approach that became more difficult as society changed. Smith does not shy away from criticism of the legendary coach, including evidence that he turned a blind eye to ethical violations by notorious booster Sam Gilbert, allowed star players to get away with otherwise forbidden behaviors, and may not have been responsible for creating the team’s aggressive style or recruiting its best players.
A highly readable cultural study of one of the greatest teams in sports history.