John Matthew Smith
The Sons of Westwood
John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball
University of Illinois Press 2013
One of the great dynasties of American sports are the UCLA men’s basketball teams of the 1960s-70s. In a twelve-year span, the Bruins won ten national collegiate championships. They had four undefeated seasons, and in one stretch, from 1971-1974, the teams won 88 straight games. UCLA’s teams featured some of basketball’s all-time greats: guards Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, who played on the Bruins’ first national championship teams; center Bill Walton, who led the team during its winning streak of the early Seventies; and Lew Alcindor (who adopted the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after entering the NBA), regarded by many as the best player in college basketball history. But because this was college basketball, the UCLA roster was always changing. During the dynasty years, first-year students were still ineligible to play on the varsity team, so players like Walton and Alcindor had careers of only three years. The one constant was the team’s coach, John Wooden, who became a legendary figure in American sports.
When he arrived from his home state of Indiana in 1948, Wooden took over a losing team that played in a cramped gym. The Los Angeles branch of the University of California, as the school was called then, had moved only two decades earlier to the developing residential district of Westwood. When Wooden retired in 1975, the letters “UCLA” were known across the country, not only for the success of the school’s athletics teams but also for the academics and research at the university. Historian John Matthew Smith’s book The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball (University of Illinois Press, 2013) looks at the emergence of the university and the success of its basketball team, set against the backdrop of the postwar boom in Southern California. As Johnny explains, part of the reason Wooden became an icon in LA was because his moral and religious character played well among people who had just moved to the region, coming–like the successful coach–from the conservative Midwest. But the values that Wooden exemplified came into conflict with the political movements that swept American campuses. The UCLA dynasty spanned the turbulent Sixties and early Seventies, and as Johnny Smith shows, the history of the team is a revealing microcosm of the cultural shifts of that pivotal era.