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Coach John Wooden, who was fond of encouraging people to “make each day your masterpiece,” would likely have appreciated the celebratory scene that unfolded this afternoon outside Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus.

On the occasion of the U.S. Postal Service issuing its Forever stamp commemorating the late, legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach, some 300 people turned out — including fans, former players, coaches, family members, post office officials and Chancellor Gene Block —  to share memories of Wooden and to honor his legacy as sports icon and teacher whose homespun wisdom and life lessons have resonated far beyond the basketball court.

► Read more about the commemorative stamp and Wooden’s career

Wooden, who coached at UCLA from 1948 to 1975 and led his teams to 10 national championships, including seven in a row, “built up a set of principles for success that could be applied in any setting — on the court, in the classroom, in the boardroom, even at home,” Chancellor Block told the crowd at Pauley, not far from the Wooden statue that graces the arena’s north entrance.

“We take enormous pride in the fact that the U.S. Postal Service has added to Coach Wooden’s legacy with today’s honor,” Block said. “A USPS Forever stamp can be used as postage in perpetuity, never to expire. That is quite appropriate for a man whose eternal, timeless wisdom will continue to shape lives for centuries to come.”

Group of people flanking enlarged image of John Wooden stamp
David Esquivel / UCLA
Left to right: Chancellor Block, Valorie Kondos Field, Derek Kan, Christy Impelman and Jamaal Wilkes. 

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won three NCAA championships under Wooden and wrote a memoir about their 50-year relationship, reminisced about Wooden’s influence on UCLA players. “He made us champs,” he said, “and made us understand life. And I don’t think any coach can do any better than that.”

In addition to remarks from Block and Abdul-Jabbar, tributes were given by Jamaal Wilkes, who won two championships with Wooden and went on to a Hall-of-Fame NBA career, former UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Wooden’s granddaughter Christy Impelman, and Derek Kan, a member of the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors.

Fans and stamp collectors purchased sheets of stamps and enlarged, framed prints of the stamp as UCLA mascots Joe and Josie Bruin warmed up the crowd. And while the memory of Wooden, who died in 2010, was ever-present, there were a few physical mementos of Coach as well.

Wilkes, the master of ceremonies, wore a bolo tie given to him by Wooden. And Kondos Field, who captured seven NCAA titles at UCLA and became close friends with Wooden over the course of her career, arrived in a gray cardigan that belonged to Coach. She recalled donning the sweater in a UCLA class she teaches on coaching and leadership and asking students where they thought it came from.

“Gucci?” one student suggested. “Tom Ford?” another offered.

It’s “vintage John Wooden,” she recalled telling them, with a laugh.

Flanked by Joe and Josie Bruin, a fan displays an envelope featuring the new John Wooden stamp.
David Esquivel / UCLA
Flanked by Joe and Josie Bruin, a fan displays an envelope featuring the new John Wooden stamp.

Impelman, who was one of about 30 family members in attendance, remembered her grandfather — who never had a secretary or personal assistant — responding to thousands of letters and requests for autographed copies of his famed Pyramid of Success during his lifetime.

“He would sign, or write, and seal the items in an envelope and put a stamp on them. In his 99 years, he used a lot of U.S. postage stamps,” she said to chuckles from the crowd. “This honor today is a reflection of the way he lived his entire life.”