Published November 20, 2014
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Even after combining for 32 NBA titles, the Celtics and Lakers realize there was no basketball champion like John Wooden.
The day before Game 2 of the NBA finals, the teams paused to reflect Saturday on the contributions Wooden made and honor his legacy. The Hall of Famer died on Friday night at the age of 99.
"I'm very familiar with what John Wooden has done for the game of basketball," said Celtics forward and Los Angeles native Paul Pierce. "When I talk about basketball, I don't mean (just) the college game, I mean all of basketball.
"His influence on the game has been awesome, and when you see an icon like that pass away, your heart just goes out to him and his family."
Wooden, who guided UCLA to 10 NCAA championships, was equally known for imparting life lessons and family values upon his players.
Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant met Wooden briefly as a youngster, and then spoke to him for about half an hour after the funeral of legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn on Aug. 5, 2002. Bryant said Wooden complimented him on his work ethic and the two spoke about the Lakers' three straight championships.
"Well, I mean, to say he was a great coach I think doesn't do it any justice," Bryant said. "I think if you talk to any of his players, players that played for him, I think the thing that's consistent is that he made them better people. I think that would be a true mark of his legacy."
When asked if he saw any parallels between UCLA's dynasty under Wooden, including seven straight NCAA titles from 1967-73, and the Lakers, winners of 15 NBA championships, Bryant shook his head.
"No, not quite like that," he said. "We've had a great run, but not quite like that."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson remembered being a high school player and marveling at the way Wooden's 1962 and 1963 teams prepared, competed and played defense.
"I guess of the 150,000 people that are reciting John's legendary fame, I just stand in awe of the guy," Jackson said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers called Wooden "the best coach ever," and has a picture of Wooden and Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, who guided the team to nine NBA titles, sitting on his desk.
When Rivers got to meet Wooden, he was blown away by the fact that Wooden knew his name and was impressed at how gracious he was.
"To have those two on your desk, I don't think you need to further your collection," Rivers said. "You know, those are the two best.
"But with Wooden, I think he's one of the rare superstars that stood out more about him as a person than he did as a coach or anything. And that's rare, when you say that about any star in any business."