The influence of John Wooden spread further around the world during the pandemic thanks to an unlikely student: Ted Lasso.

Jason Sudeikis, star and co-creator of the Emmy-winning show Ted Lasso,​​ has sprinkled Wooden wisdom and the Pyramid of Success throughout all three seasons of the series about a relentlessly sunny Midwestern coach recruited to lead a London soccer team. The coach’s folksy optimism and empathy initially inspire more mockery than goals, but the feel-good story has a feel-better ending. 

Sudeikis told The Athletic that he learned about the Pyramid of Success, Wooden’s visual roadmap to building character, when he was on a basketball scholarship at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas — and that it has influenced him all his life. 

The former Saturday Night Live star had the Pyramid laminated as a poster so he could “diagram on it with a dry erase marker” when teaching improv comedy, quizzing students on their habits of industriousness and enthusiasm. He even brought a signed copy of the Pyramid to London when shooting Ted Lasso at the famed homes of teams such as West Ham United, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. 

Throughout the series, Lasso carries around a little blue book filled with Wooden sayings augmented by his own “Woodenisms,” such as noting a player is “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

Sudeikis has said he created the cheery series as a response to our ever-polarizing politics. 

During the second-season finale of the Apple+ streamer, an episode titled “Inverting the Pyramid,” Lasso rallies his team before a key match with a jokey yet serious speech: “To quote the great UCLA basketball coach, John Obi-Wan Gandalf, it is our choices, gentlemen, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (That’s actually a quote from Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.) 

The camera then lingers on the signed Pyramid of Success diagram, pinned high in the fictional Richmond Athletic Football Club’s office, a reminder that the lessons of John Wooden extend all over the globe — even to a scrappy fictional English soccer club that’s charmed the world.

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