John Wooden exhibit is one worth being in a hurry to see

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The miniature bottle of tabasco sauce might have elicited a smile from the coach who said ‘it’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.’

The bottle is exactly where John Wooden left it, lodged among scores of books on a shelf inside a replica of the late UCLA basketball coach’s den from his Encino condominium. The den has been painstakingly recreated in a glass-enclosed exhibit that opens to the public at 8 a.m. Wednesday at the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame inside the J.D. Morgan Athletic Center.

Lovingly decorated by Wooden’s wife, Nell, the den served as his office and social gathering spot after retiring in 1975. It includes the desk where Wooden autographed thousands of pictures, balls and books. It’s also the place where he wrote his monthly love letter to his wife after her death in 1984.

Among a treasure trove of trophies and plaques are a seemingly out-of-place mug and plate adorned with colored scribbles given to Wooden by his grandchildren.


‘What I love about these is they’re given the same significance--or maybe more--than some of the amazing awards he won,’ said Emily Greer, the exhibit’s curator and a graphic artist for the UCLA athletic department.

Greer used photos and a floor plan to meticulously recreate the living space, even going so far as to place every book in the exact position it occupied inside Wooden’s home.

‘It was basically like a puzzle to put it back together,’ Greer said.

Only the carpet and the bookshelf--an exact replica--are new. His television is set on a loop playing his favorite Western movies, UCLA basketball highlights and a tribute from Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, among other shows. Above the television are pictures of Wooden’s 10 UCLA championship teams arranged in a pyramid, a tribute to the coach’s famed pyramid of success.

The den was the vision of Ken Weiner, UCLA senior associate director of business operations, who along with Kevin Borg, director of facilities, had toured various athletic halls of fame around the country and were impressed by a recreation of Bear Bryant’s living room in Alabama. Senior associate director Bobby Field, who was close to Wooden’s family, brought them on board with the concept of the den honoring Wooden, who died in June at 99.

There are some surprises, including a pool stick propped up against a wall and an iPod attached to a boom box. Wooden had no idea how to use it, so his grandchildren programmed it for him.

Wooden’s family visited the room on what would have been his 100th birthday earlier this month. ‘They were pointing at things and saying, ‘I gave him that,’ ' Greer recalled.

Though she met the coach only once before he died, Greer feels a special connection.

‘I feel like I know a lot about him through making this room,’ she said.

--Ben Bolch