Anchored just a few steps outside the north entrance of Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA is a heroic-sized statue of basketball coach John Wooden.
Crafted by LDS sculptor Blair Buswell, the 8-foot-tall bronze immortalizes both the iconic man and the principles of excellence he espoused.
The late Coach Wooden’s achievements are the stuff of legend. Between 1964 and 1975, he guided UCLA to 10 national championships. At one point, his Bruins won 88 straight games. Such success was unprecedented and even magical — earning him the nickname the “Wizard of Westwood.”
Along the way, he recruited and mentored several of the college game’s all-time greats — including Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Bill Walton and Sidney Wicks.
So how did he realize such success? What set John Wooden apart from countless other hard-working and ambitious college coaches? A recounting of one of his annual practice traditions perhaps offers the answers.
At the beginning of each season, Coach Wooden gathered his new players about him and talked about shoelaces. Not championships or hoop dreams or All-America honors, but shoelaces. He explained that tying shoelaces the right way — tight and even — was the first step to staying healthy during a grueling basketball season.
He would then demonstrate the proper way to lace up a pair of basketball high tops. Then he asked the players to follow his lead.
“He didn’t want blisters,” former UCLA player Rich Levin told the New York Times. “I mean, that’s not a serious illness, but you could miss a game or two.”
During his coaching career, John Wooden obviously mastered the intricacies of preparing a college basketball team for competition. He could motivate young men. He understood the game’s “X’s and O’s.” But he never forgot the basics — including the value of properly laced sneakers.
So it is with the gospel. A life of deep gospel exploration and education is admirable, but we must never forget the basics.
The world is increasingly defined by nuance and shifting layers of truth. But an understanding of life’s most complicated matters remains paradoxically grounded to gospel basics: prayer and scripture study.
In his April 1993 general conference address, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said blessings continue to be found by committing to these two basic practices.
“Never let a day go by without holding family prayer and family scripture study,” he counseled. “Put this, the Lord’s program, to the test, and see if it does not bless your home with greater peace, hope, love and faith.
“I promise you that daily family prayer and scripture study will build within the walls of your home a security and bonding that will enrich your lives and prepare your families to meet the challenges of today and the eternities to come.
“God grant unto us the desire to seek Him reverently and humbly in prayer and the sincere desire to study His word, as contained in His holy scriptures.”
The prophet Alma surely understood the deeper elements of the gospel, but in his final instruction to his son, Helaman, he opted to teach this fundamental lesson:
“ ‘Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.