Three weeks ago, Steve Jamison walked into to John Wooden's condo not sure what to expect from the 99-year-old coaching legend.
Jamison, who has written eight books with Wooden since 1997, knew that it was touch and go at Wooden's age.
He arrived that day for one more piece of business -- to finish the last book together, the “Wisdom of Wooden,” a picture book that includes Wooden's favorite memories conjured up by the photo.
That day, the author showed Wooden the galley copy of the book, going through the pictures and reading the text to him -- Wooden could no longer read.
Throughout the time working on the book, Jamison said he naively thought Wooden would easily make it to his 100th birthday. But on that day, it appeared most likely that he wouldn't.
When Jamison was done with his business, he knew this meeting might be their last. He wrapped up the chatter with "Are we OK?" That's how Jamison asked for Wooden's seal of approval for every book. The great coach approved.
And then the reporter who spent more time with Wooden over the last 15 years than any other reporter knew it was time for goodbye.
"I gave him a hug and thanked him for all he had done and I told him I loved him," Jamison said.
"I love you too Steve, you know that," Wooden said.
And that was the last time Steve Jamison saw John Wooden.
Fifteen years ago, Jamison came to Wooden saying he wanted to write an article on him. Wooden obliged, but when Jamison looked at his notes, he knew there was so much more.
“Everything he said just jumped off the page,” Jamison said.
So Jamison went to Wooden telling him they should do a book together on his ideas and maxims.
“He told me he was done,” Jamison said. “He had already written his biography and a book on the X and O’s of basketball.”
Wooden didn’t care about making money or the celebrity of publishing another book, but three months later, when Jamison told Wooden this was a chance to teach more people, Wooden was sold.
The book, “Wooden: A lifetime of observations and reflections on and off the court,” is without a doubt the most successful book ever written with a coach.
“I don’t think we sold 10 copies the first month,” Jamison laughs. “But we’ve sold exponentially more copies every year. That’s why it has never gone to paperback.”
The book is now in six languages and Jamison says they’ve sold millions of copies.
The book is No. 21 on Amazon’s best selling books and has been in the top 100 for a week, along with two other Wooden books, one of which is co-written with Jamison.
In light of Wooden’s death, Jamison’s latest collaboration with Wooden, “The Wisdom of Wooden: A Century of Family, Faith and Friends,” will hit stores in about three weeks, a month before its scheduled debut.
Jamison said that the book, featuring pictures of Wooden’s life accompanied by his words, is their best collaboration together.
“He really opened up,” Jamison said. “I think he knew this was it for him and he didn’t seem to be editing any of his comments.”
Jamison thought it was over a year ago. The two had scheduled to meet up at Vip’s Family Restaurant, where Wooden eats breakfast every morning.
Wooden, who always showed up right on time, was late. Jamison looked at the clock. There was tension in the diner that Wooden had not arrived at Table No. 2. Just in case it was the end, Jamison snapped a photo. The hand-bend cardboard with the “RESERVED” sign. The sports section of the Los Angeles Times folded over just like the staff had set up for Wooden every morning. The place setting ready with two toothpicks on the napkin.
False alarm. Wooden would be OK.
Jamison says that although Wooden was larger than life when he was living, he’ll be even bigger in death.
“It’s just like many famous people, they have to die to become immortal,” Jamison said. “Coach Wooden’s legacy will only grow because what he said rings true. His example of succeeding by doing things the right way, by behaving in a civil manner, by treating people right is timeless. It’s a lesson that many people in this world can learn.”
Jamison says he hopes that he can play a part, with Wooden’s family, in shaping the coach’s legacy to make sure everything that is done is done in appropriate ways.
“Coach wouldn’t want his face and sayings on coffee cups,” Jamison said.
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