A couple of weeks ago, something wonderful happened in downtown Los Angeles. Two of my favorite people, and living legends, John Wooden and Vin Scully, sat down together to talk about sports, life, love, and their remarkable experiences in life.
I had no idea this was happening, or I would have done my best to be there. I did read about it, at several places on the Internet, and wanted to share it here, so I could remember it.
Scully and Wooden first met by chance while living in the same Brentwood apartment building, when Scully held the gate open for Wooden, who was carrying groceries inside. Wooden introduced himself by saying, "Hello, I'm John Wooden, the new basketball coach at UCLA". Can you imagine?!
Scully and Wooden kicked off Father's Day weekend with a 1½-hour chat. A sold-out crowd of 7,100 paid rapt attention at Nokia Theatre, while a live television audience listened in. (As I understand, it was a one-time broadcast - if anyone reading this ever hears that it will air again, PLEASE let me know)
Scully and Wooden received prolonged standing ovations when they arrived and left the stage. Despite looming large over the Los Angeles sports scene for decades, the 80-year-old Scully and 97-year-old Wooden have never sat down together publicly to share their memories.
In agreeing to participate, the men requested that all money raised benefit children's charities. This is so like these two selfless men.
Ticket prices ranged from $25 to $200, with proceeds split between UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital and ThinkCure, the Los Angeles Dodgers' charity that focuses on cancer research. Scully and Wooden appeared beforehand at a dinner, where tables went for $25,000 each.
Wooden came onstage in a wheelchair pushed by UCLA athletic trainer Tony Spino, who helped the former coach settle into a leather chair. Wooden made a passing reference to having broken his left wrist and collarbone in a fall at home in February.
His body may be frail, but Wooden proved his mind is as sharp as ever as he recalled snippets of his life from decades ago in between making the audience laugh with his retorts to Simers.
Wooden tenderly admitted he still writes his late wife Nell – the only girl he ever dated – a letter on the 21st of each month. “She's still there to me,” he said. “I talk to her every day.”
Scully's famously soothing voice has defined summer in the city to generations of Angelenos. But he is fiercely private away from the announcer's booth, rarely giving interviews or discussing his life.
He explained that he grew up in New York being taught not to show his emotions.
“I'm less of a man because of it,” he said.
Scully said he's not a fan of the Dodgers because “if I did that every flyball would be a home run.”Scully remembered a game that Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier, and the Dodgers played in Philadelphia on a hot day. A man outside offered slices of watermelon to each of the players as they got on the bus.
“When Jackie came out he was not aware of anything, and all of a sudden, the man hands him a piece of watermelon,” Scully said. “He was ready to go pyrotechnic until we were able to say, 'No, no, Jack. Everybody is having watermelon, me, a redhead Irishman.' So it was fine, but there was always that underlying feeling.”
Scully said the worst thing anyone could do was make Robinson angry.
“Most of us, if not all of us, lose something when we get angry,” he said. “When Jackie got angry, somehow he took his game to a higher level. One game, he knew they were trying to hit him. So he got to first base on ball four and proceeded to steal second, third and home. The word around the league was, I remember hearing Leo Durocher say this to the Giants: 'Don't wake him up.'”
At one point, Scully, a former barbershop quartet singer, launched into his favorite song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” with the audience joining in.
Asked the secret to his long life, Wooden replied, “Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don't let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.”
Scully was asked when he plans to retire.
“I still get the goose bumps every day when the crowd roars for whatever reason,” he said. “I'm looking forward to at least next year. But I remember the old thing about talk about next year and make the devil laugh, so I'd rather just go day to day like we all are anyway.”
In a takeoff of “Inside the Actor's Studio,” Simers asked Scully and Wooden a series of questions requiring mostly one-word answers.
Their favorite words? Both men replied love. Their least favorite? Both said hate.
The noise they hate? “Booing,” Wooden said. “Chalk on a blackboard,” Scully said.
Their favorite curse word? “Goodness gracious snakes alive,” the clean-living Wooden said, drawing laughter. “Darn it,” Scully replied.
The profession they would like to try? Civil engineer for Wooden, and song-and-dance man for Scully.
If heaven exists, what would they like God to say when they arrive at the pearly gates?
“Well done,” Wooden said as the audience applauded in agreement.
“Can't really top that,” Scully said. “Welcome my son, well done.”
At that, the two legends reached toward each other, grasped hands and smiled.
There is a brief video of these two great men last week at this event, here at MLB.
Now, may I recap for a moment?
1. Vin Scully tell us that when you hide your emotions, you are less of a man for it. To me, this is wisdom in its purest form.
2. Coach Wooden still writes his long deceased wife a letter once a month. This, my friends, is love.
3. Coach also tells us that the secret to is not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. I am working on both of those. Maybe someday I will have it together.
4. Both of their favorites words are love.
And all I can say to both of these men is "well done". I know of few other men who more deserve these words.