Visitors to the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame will soon get a behind-the-scenes look at the life of legendary basketball coach and humanitarian John Wooden, as a new exhibit titled, “John Wooden – The Den” is scheduled to open later this month. The new display was made possible after the family generously agreed to loan the contents of his den to the school’s athletic department.
Featuring everything from numerous awards and medals to arts and crafts given to him by his grandchildren, the exhibit is an exact replica of the Encino condominium den where he spent a majority of his post-UCLA years after retiring in 1975. Decorated by his wife, Nell, the room served as Coach Wooden’s place of work for more than 30 years. It’s where he could often be found answering fan mail, conducting interviews or entertaining friends and family.
Those who have had a chance to preview the room are impressed at the similarity. Coach’s family got a sneak peak following an on-campus celebration of Coach’s 100th birthday on the evening of Oct. 14.
“I’ve been in there twice, and both times I felt like I was taken back in time,” says UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, who was a regular visitor to the condominium. “It is replicated with such attention to detail that you feel like you’re back in Coach Wooden’s room. I think he would be really pleased at how well it’s done. It’s pretty remarkable.”
The project was the brainchild of both Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Weiner and Associate Athletic Director Bobby Field, whose close ties to the Wooden family were instrumental in helping bring the idea to life. The family’s willingness to essentially turn the room over to UCLA was no small gesture, especially when you consider that a number of different organizations, including the Smithsonian, were interested in obtaining pieces of Wooden’s legacy.
“We thought that this room would be a great opportunity for people to continue to have a little contact with Coach,” says Field. “I think it will be a great experience not only for those people who have been in the actual room but for those who always envisioned what it might look like as well. Now they will actually get to see what it looked like.”
Adds Weiner, “It’s important to note that everything in the room still belongs to the family – it’s just on loan to UCLA. We did this with the understanding that if they ever wanted anything back, they could have it.”
Once all of the details were worked out, Facilities Director Kevin Borg and Hall of Fame Sr. graphic artist and curator Emily Greer spearheaded the project, which began with several visits to the condominium in preparation for the move. After the room was photographed and cataloged, the contents were shipped to UCLA in late August. The design team then used the photographs as a reference to essentially re-create the den.
“If you look at the photos that we took of the actual room, it’s very exact,” says Greer. “Even the framed pictures on the wall are spaced exactly how we found them. This room definitely adds a new dimension to the Hall of Fame.”
In the months following Coach Wooden’s passing, his children, Jim and Nan, faced the impossible task of trying to accommodate everyone who had requested items from their father’s life. His alma mater, Purdue, received a number of items, as did Indiana State, where he coached and earned his master’s degree in Education. His hometown of Martinsville, Ind. was also entrusted with several keepsakes to display. But in the end, the family insisted that UCLA was at the forefront.
“We shipped things to a number of places, but UCLA is where he spent most of his time,” says Nan, who had final approval on the room’s authenticity. “We really wanted them to have the den. I think they did a great job on it.”
UCLA athletic trainer Tony Spino, a longtime friend of Coach Wooden as well as his primary caregiver the last several years, summed up the exhibit best.