Even the artist who designed the John R. Wooden Award trophy for college basketball’s player of the year—the same man who handcrafts the 24-karat gold-plated Grammy Award trophy every year—has a heartfelt connection with Coach Wooden to share.
John Billings met Coach at his first job out of high school, working the loading dock at the UCLA Student Union. Nearly every day, Coach Wooden passed through the student union on his way to lunch and stopped and said hello to Billings. The young man opened up to Coach and shared his dream to design and create sculptures. Wooden helped Billings find side jobs to make ends meet for his young family. “I always listened to his advice and was in awe of his wisdom,” Billings says.
Related: The Path to Greatness
Now Billings handcrafts the Grammy Award and the Wooden Award from his small shop in Colorado. He was recently featured in Billboard magazine for his craftsmanship of the prestigious awards.
Celebrating his 40th year of crafting the Wooden Award, Billings says, “I put every bit of myself into each award I make in his honor. It’s as if he were guiding my hand and saying, ‘It’s not perfect, but it’s your best and I’m proud.’”
There are plenty of awards named after people in the sports world, from the Bobby Bowden National Collegiate Coach of the Year award to the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. But no sports figure has more awards named for the qualities he so eloquently exhibited than Coach John Wooden. The late UCLA men’s basketball coach inspired thousands of people while he was alive, from coaches and athletes to businesspeople and entertainers. His spirit of generosity, kindness and integrity continues to live on in the form of numerous awards that are given out each year to outstanding coaches, athletes and leaders.
Here’s a look at some of the most prestigious awards that were inspired by the greatest coach of all time.
The John R. Wooden Player of the Year Award is actually a Los Angeles Athletic Club-sponsored program consisting of several annual awards—the Men’s Player of the Year and the Women’s Player of the Year, as well as Legends of Coaching, the All-America teams and the High School Player of the Year. In recent years, the award has grown to become a live televised ceremony presented by Wendy’s on ESPNU and has long been recognized as the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball.
The John R. Wooden Award trophy features five bronze figures, each depicting one of the five major skills that Wooden believed a “total” basketball player must exhibit: rebounding, passing, shooting, dribbling and defense. Coach John Wooden’s ideas of the “total basketball player” inspired the trophy’s design by Billings, the Colorado artist who once worked at UCLA.
The awards were named in honor of John Wooden being named college basketball player of the year at Purdue University in 1932. A 26-member panel chooses around 15 candidates for the award each year. The first award was given in 1977 to UCLA forward Marques Johnson and the award extended to women’s basketball in 2004. The 2017 Wooden award winners will be named April 7, 2017 presented by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Blake Griffin (2009)
Candace Parker (2007 and 2008)
Kevin Durant (2007)
Tim Duncan (1997)
David Robinson (1987)
Michael Jordan (1984)
Larry Bird (1979)
The same committee that issues the annual Player of the Year awards is also responsible for the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award, given each year to college basketball coaches who exhibit coaching expertise and finesse that matches what Coach Wooden demonstrated.
Coaches are judged by their character, success on the court, graduation rate of student athletes on their team and overall coaching philosophy.
That Wooden-esque philosophy is what makes this award so meaningful. “It’s a real honor. It’s one of the most prestigious awards you can be selected for or receive,” Tubby Smith told the Lubbock Avalanche Journal after receiving the 2016 award.
Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame University (2017)
Tubby Smith, Texas Tech University (2016)
Tom Izzo, Michigan State University (2011)
Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee (2008)
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University (2000)
Presented by the UCLA Anderson School of Management, this award is given to people who exhibit qualities vital to business that Coach Wooden praised: pride, respect, teamwork and a commitment to ethics. Each year, the school gives out the award to a leader in service to the community. The award is presented at a dinner each year and the proceeds fund $25,000 John Wooden Leadership Fellowships for UCLA management students.
Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox (2015)
Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company (2013)
Peter Uberroth, MLB Commissioner and Olympics visionary (2011)
Fred Smith, chairman and CEO of FedEx (2010)
Howard Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks (2008)
This award was created in 1998 by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, and is given to a former player or coach with exceptional character and who has strong faith and leadership skills. The award is given out at the Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action at the NCAA college basketball tournament each year.
Danny Miles, Oregon Tech (2015)
Del Harris, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers (2014)
Homer Drew, Valparaiso University (2012)
Don Meyer, Northern State University (2010)
This award is presented to various levels of athletes in any sport by Athletes for a Better World (ABW) each year. Two high school student athletes, one intercollegiate student athlete and one professional athlete receive the award each year for their citizenship, teamwork and character.
Drew Brees, professional football player (2014)
Shannon Miller, professional gymnast (2015)
Mia Hamm, professional soccer player (2010)
Cal Ripken, Jr., professional baseball player (2009)
Dive deeper into Coach’s philosophy with The Path To Greatness: Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a course that highlights the leadership techniques and inspirational teachings Coach used to empower others to greatness.