So your two books; the John Wooden Pyramid of Success and Woodenisms: The Wisdom of Sayings of famed basketball coach John Wooden. Tell me how you got inspired by John and how you got into writing these books.
Neville Johnson: Well, many years ago, I was a … I had achieved what I wanted to achieve as a lawyer which was represent the biggest act in rock n’ roll and that was John Lennon and I was the lawyer for the estate of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and I saw this thing on somebody’s wall that said “The pyramid of success.” I said, “Who did that?” And they said it was John Wooden. And I said, “The basketball coach? And because … and I thought to myself that’s what success really is, what he had to say, which was, is that success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction, knowing you’ve made the effort to become your best so I decided to track him down.
And I wanted to get to know him so I went out to have a conversation with him about it. And then I said I want to interview you. And he said, “okay.” And I went on and I interviewed him. And then I said, “I want to write a book about this.” He said, “No, my wife is sick.” So I wrote some chapters anyway, and I sent them to him and they came back red-lined a month later. [crosstalk 00:01:52] so that’s where it all started.
David Brower: Wow! What a gift, just to be able to sit down and visit with such an icon.
Neville Johnson: Can you imagine he just let me into his living room and chat.
David Brower: Wow! That’s a … I got goosebumps on that one man. That’s pretty special. I’ve been thinking about him for the last few days for some reason. I think it’s probably because of the sweet 16. He getting down to the final four and when [inaudible 00:02:21] was playing for him and they took away the block shot because of him back in ’67 and finally, they let him back in ’76 but he just and Bill [inaudible 00:02:36] I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time. People that have been touched by John Wooden are just innumerable.
Neville Johnson: Yeah he’s a … he had a tremendous influence and popularity when he was a coach and I think even more since he retired and it just goes to show you that old adage that, there’s still second act in life or whatever, is not true.
David Brower: Right.
Neville Johnson: Because he went on to have a great life.
David Brower: Absolutely right and when a legacy is left behind like that from … it goes far beyond coaching and like you’re saying the Pyramid of Success, a lot of people have used that pyramid to their own success, haven’t they?
Neville Johnson: Well, it’s taken on a life of it’s own and has extreme popularity and can be used by anybody anywhere anytime and one of the thing that attracted me to it was that it non-sectarian. It’s just good common-sense and it has all the principles that we should have to live a productive and good life and, you know, the key ingredients are industriousness and enthusiasm. He said, “you gotta … do not substitute for work and you should love what you do and you should go after a great and difficult challenge.” He calls it competitive greatness and I think that that’s something we should all be taking … take to heart. I asked him one time, “What about people who are in a job they don’t like?” He says, “What they should do as soon as they can. They should get to the position they want to be.”
David Brower: Yeah.
Neville Johnson: Overall, so I-
Both: Go ahead.
Neville Johnson: Well I just don’t-
David Brower: It’s so hard to do that, you know, when you feel [inaudible 00:04:21] downed in a job or in a career and then you get [inaudible 00:04:27] I gotta go somewhere else and oftentimes, people just don’t have the aware with how to make that happen.
Neville Johnson: Yeah but you know I’m a great believer in destiny, hard work and going for what you want and he says, “If you have realistic goal, you should go and try and achieve it.” That’s what it’s all about-
David Brower: Making the effort. Having your eye on the ball. Pun intended and making the effort to go after it and that Pyramid of Success can help you do that, right?
Neville Johnson: Yes, yes, yes and it works in business. It works in life. It works in all aspects of the human condition. You know, he was just such a wonderful philosopher who said things like, “The most important words in the English language is love followed by balance.” I mean, imagine a basketball coach saying that.
David Brower: How simple is that, right?
Neville Johnson: Right-
David Brower: We tend to overthink things and make things much more complicated than they need to be and if you can focus on love and balance, my goodness, you can do a lot of things in your life.
Neville Johnson: Right and then he says things like, “why is it so difficult to realize there’re times that nothing we can do will change the past and the only way to affect the future is by what we do now?” You know, he has all these wonderful, simple aphorisms like he says, “There are no secrets. It is studying and learning all you can from all those from all those with whom you come in contact and that is not only for other coaches but all others.” And he says, “The ideal level of motivations is nothing other than consistent preparation and execution that starts the first day of practice and is maintained at the constant levels throughout the basketball season.”
So he lived it. That was the beautiful thing about him. He lived it and the reason he’s so great although, younger people were not around at the time was, he has a collection of what I call not only unequal but unapproachable records. I mean, seven national championships in a row. 10 out of 12 years.
David Brower: Yeah.
Neville Johnson: Speak three perfect seasons, it’s like come on.
David Brower: Yeah. You look at philosophy, consistency and integrity in the dictionary and there’s coach Wooden in all three pages, right?
Neville Johnson: Yeah. Now and, you know, I did my best as a law … because I’m a lawyer to go and find … that’s what my job is; to go find the faults in other people so I can win the case.
David Brower: Yeah.
Neville Johnson: And so I did everything I could to find it in a … if there is … Coach Wooden is a saint. He was a just a wonderful, wonderful, very kind person who treated everybody with respect and dignity and I kept it all in perspective. In other words, he was and so devoted to his wife and so happy as a family-man and yes, he enjoyed being a coach and all the rest of that stuff but he didn’t, you know, he went on to have a great life after it was time for him to retire. That gives great hope to anybody out there who is gonna be making some sort of a life change is that the world doesn’t end just because you’re, you know, you don’t just measure your life just by what you did through a job, you know.
David Brower: That is absolutely correct and balance … I tell you, love and balance really makes a lot of sense to a lot of people if they stopped and think about it. Whether it’s professionally or personally.
Neville Johnson: Yeah and he was a … another thing about him was that he was a great teacher of coach of his students and afterwards, he was an incredible friend and mentor so he kept in touch with all of his players over the years. He knew where almost everybody was and had a great time with them overall but he knew when he had to be the teacher and the coach and he knew when he could change and to becoming their friend. It’s a lesson for anybody who is a mentor or a mentee of how a relationship can work, and here he had a 180 or so players from ECLA who he stayed in touch with his whole life.
David Brower: And he could probably name his … their family members by name and know everything about them all at the same time.
Neville Johnson: So true. And, you know, I interviews guys that didn’t play so much as well as the stars. I interviewed the managers of the teams. He touched everybody he came into contact with and he was a humble man but in the sense that he wasn’t a braggadocio but he had a really good time and what people don’t realize is how humorous he was. Very, very funny sense of humor and also how educated he was. He had gotten a graduate degree in English and Poetry in particular and he was a poet himself. He also was a … said to me, “I took so many courses in psychology I could had a degree.” And so-
David Brower: Wow. That’s fascinating. Your follow-up of the Woodenisms, so is that exactly what it says? Is it just [crosstalk 00:09:53]
Neville Johnson: Yeah yeah, it’s[crosstalk 00:09:56] it is. It’s filled with a bunch of them, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” as one of his most famous ones.
David Brower: Yeah.
Neville Johnson: And “The star is the rest of the team.” and “The softest pillow is a clear conscience.” and “The athlete that says something cannot be done should never interrupt the athlete who is doing it.” And a bunch of others that are just so great.
David Brower: Wow.
Neville Johnson: “The two athletes should have character not be a character.” And, you know, when I sent him the book originally, I had transcribed his lecture on the pyramid and he wrote back as the last line, “Your reputation is what others think you are. Your character is what you really are.”
David Brower: Love that.
Neville Johnson: That was a pretty good one. Here is what he says about being a good leader, “One that doesn’t try to be a leader. One that is not lost in themselves. Not consumed with themselves. That’s not a dictator. One that is interested in finding about the best way to accomplish things rather than having his own way. One that makes every effort to make those under his supervision know that they’re working with him to accomplish in the end rather than working for him.”
I think, if you have someone working for you they’ll just put an hour, as in punch the clock. That’s it.
David Brower: Yeah. Absolutely right and again, that philosophy carries over personal life, professional life, basketball, a tourney, radio broadcaster; doesn’t make any difference. If you have love and balance and you are able to articulate some of those things that’s … it can change your life.
Neville Johnson: Yeah and he told us, you know, was … he was very proud of the fact that more than 90% of his players graduated from college which of course, would never happen today because everybody any good goes pro almost immediately but he referred to … he always referred to his players as student athletes and he told them, “You came here first for an education and second, to play basketball.” So it was all about perspective.
Another thing he said was, “Never get emotional, just go out there and play your game. Don’t get high after a win. Don’t be down after a defeat. And he would … His daughter said, “Unless you’d been at the game you wouldn’t have known who won.”
David Brower: Wow.
Neville Johnson: Right.
David Brower: That’s amazing. I still have that … I don’t know whether it was a program, a newspaper, what it was but I just have this vision of him walking up and down the court holding something rolled up in his hand and just kind of slapping it in his other hand, is that right?
Neville Johnson: Yeah, that was his program and he also carried a cross with him in his pocket at all times for … to keep things going his way.
David Brower: Coaches are some of the most superstitious people I’ve ever known. They … one buddy of mine was a coach for a long time and he used to always wear the same chinos with a penny in the left cuff and that was just his deal, you know.
Neville Johnson: Yeah and he was all about fundamentals at all times and he said, “It’s all about the practice. I can only do so much during a game.” And he was a fierce competitor. And he would, you know, yell during the games at the coaches and all that but, you know, he played fair and square and he won fair and square and he kept improving each year so he went from the full court press to the big man with cream and, you know, learned how to have a big man on his team et cetera.
David Brower: Wasn’t he quite a player himself back in the day?
Neville Johnson: Not only quite a player how about player of the year? In, I think it was 1930 at Pradeux and one of his teams won the state championships and his high school team won the state championship as well so he was a tremendous player, yeah.
David Brower: So what was your favorite moment with him? There had to be a lot but did you have a favorite moment?
Neville Johnson: I think sitting in his living room and just seeing how he lived, you know, I got to see his bedroom and at the end of his bed, it was a shrine to his wife who had passed away with a love letter they had written to her every month, you know,
David Brower: Wow.
Neville Johnson: And that’s very touching to see. He really missed her and he really loved her overall, you know, so yeah.
David Brower: Absolutely.
Neville Johnson: You know, he was a … I’ll just put it this way, he didn’t suffer [inaudible 00:14:51] gladly. He knew what was going on and … but he was gracious and I loved seeing just the … and hearing about his innumerable kindnesses to so many. He touched so many people and I went back to Indiana and met people he’d gone to high school with. In fact, one person said, “Wooden never said a bad thing about anybody else.” And another thing about Wooden that I think is interesting is that he never used the word win, saying, “We won the game.” or “We beat the other team.” He would only say, “We outscored our opponent.”
David Brower: Wow. That’s classic.
Neville Johnson: Yeah, at the end of the day, it only matters, really how well you did. I mean, as a lawyer, I’m not gonna win every case.
David Brower: Right.
Neville Johnson: But if I can feel good about myself if I did darnedest to win.
David Brower: Absolutely. Integrity was everything with him, huh?
Neville Johnson: It was and he was, you know, people really liked him. I’ll tell you, another thing about him; I grew up in Southern California and I was here then. Boy! Did he have an affect on our culture out here. I mean, we felt all of us like winners.
David Brower: Wow.
Neville Johnson: I guess that’s not a word I should use. We felt good about ourselves. We felt good about ourselves because of the tremendous competence and victories of the teams. It made us all feel really good and I said in the book that, when he retired; it was certainly like the Beetles breaking up. It’s, oh no, what are we gonna do now? Like really hasn’t been anybody like him ever since.
David Brower: Yeah.
Neville Johnson: Because heroes are hard to find and we always find some failings with them in some way, for so many of them and that’s whether they’re athletes or politicians or celebrities of some sort but not him. He lived up to his reputation.
David Brower: And that my sense is I lived far, far away from him but always followed him and his teams and there was always, even for me, he would just give you a sense of pride whether you played ball or not.
Neville Johnson: Yeah. It was a … I’ll tell you a funny story about himself.
Hey coach, you know how you said you never swore except when you were 10 years and your dad boxed your ears? Well I was taking to a guy who says that in 1932 after a high school game that you coached, you took a swing at the other guy and called him an S.O.B and Wooden said, “I did take a swing at him. I did not call him an S.O.B and I have witnesses.”
David Brower: That’s funny. Oh my God.
Neville Johnson: And then, you know, he was a modest man and I’m not gonna say that this was false modesty but this … you can imagine him with a twinkle in his eye. It’s 1975, he has just won his 10th national championship and announced he’s retiring and the press comes up to him and says, “How do you feel on winning this game?” And his response is, “Well, it’s pleasing.”
David Brower: I love it. I absolutely love it. How can folks get your books, Neville?
Neville Johnson: All right so the book is … the new book is called Woodenisms. It’s available at Books a Million and of course, from Amazon which is selling 75% of the books of this country, I understand.
David Brower: Yep.
Neville Johnson: And my other book is called The John Wooden Pyramid of Success, second edition and that’s also available from Amazon.
David Brower: Very good and do you have a website where they’re available too?
Neville Johnson: I think if you go to cooltitles.com you’ll find information about that, yeah.
David Brower: Terrific. Terrific. Again, the books are The John Wooden Pyramid of Success and Woodenisms.
Our guest is been Neville Johnson from Hollywood. Thank you so much for your time and all the love and energy you put into these books and the opportunity you had to visit with a great man. Well, that just changed your life forever, didn’t it?
Neville Johnson: It did and thank so much for talking to me David.
David Brower: You’re very welcome. You’ve been listening to Your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower and our special guest, Neville Johnson. Be sure to follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/your20minutepodcast.
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