LOS ANGELES, CA (WPIX)—- John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever, has died. He was 99.
The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been since May 26.
Wooden remained beloved by many of his former players, several of whom visited him in recent days to say their goodbyes.
Among them was Bill Walton, whose voice caught as he spoke of the man he hailed as a teacher first and a coach second.
"He's the greatest," Walton said the night before Wooden's death. "We love him."
Jamaal Wilkes said he recognized what he called "that little glint" in Wooden's pale blue eyes.
During his second visit Wednesday night, Wilkes asked Wooden if he recognized him.
"His glasses fogged up, and he had to clean his glasses," Wilkes said. "He looked at me and said, 'I remember you, now go sit down."'
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre and current UCLA coach Ben Howland were among Wooden's final visitors.
"I just enjoyed him and the twinkle in his eye," Howland said, noting Wooden told a few jokes from his hospital bed. "I'm just the steward of this program. It's always going to be his program."
Jim Harrick is the only coach in the post-Wooden era at UCLA to win a national championship. When the Bruins reached the 1995 Final Four in Seattle, Harrick repeatedly urged Wooden to attend. He had stopped going after his wife died 10 years earlier.
"You don't know how stubborn he was," Harrick said by phone from Orange County, Calif. "Finally, he did come, and it was a tremendous thrill."
With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Walton and Lew Alcindor - later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man. But he taught in a very simple way. He just used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released through UCLA.
"He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than a coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."
Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement after their father died, saying, "He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family.
"The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."