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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on friendship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on new book
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on new book 04:56

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is shedding new light on his relationship with one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, UCLA's John Wooden. Abdul-Jabbar and Wooden lost just twice during their time together. They led the UCLA Bruins to three straight NCAA championships from 1967 through 1969.


The Hall of Fame coach and player remained close long after their time on the court and formed one of the most enduring relationships in sports history. Abdul-Jabbar's new book, "Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court" gives an intimate look at their deep bond.

"[Wooden's] motivation to coach had to do with his Christian faith. He wanted to use basketball as means to have an influence on young men and show them how to live their lives," Abdul-Jabbar said Monday on "CBS This Morning." Abdul-Jabbar converted to Islam as a young man, but he said, "morality is morality."

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) assists coach John Wooden off the court after celebrating the 40th anniversary of 1967 NCCA Championship team during half time at the UCLA-Stanford game, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007, in Los Angeles.  Gus Ruelas/AP Photo

"It is about right or wrong. Don't have to be that specific. When I became Muslim, I let Coach Wooden know about it. He wanted to know what my motivations were and everything, but he did not disapprove," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He just wanted to understand what my thought process was and where I was coming from as a person."

Above all, Wooden prioritized helping influence his young players to become better people.

"That was his ultimate goal. But on the way to that, we won a few basketball games," Abdul-Jabbar said said, smiling.

While their bond was initially over basketball, Abdul-Jabbar got to know the wisdom of his coach beyond the sport.

"I was an English major, he was an English teacher – so we had things to talk about that had nothing to do with sports. He enjoyed that. He enjoyed expanding the relationship and what it was based on," Abdul-Jabbar said.

One of the coach's favorite sayings, Abdul-Jabbar recalled, was "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."

"He stole from Ben Franklin, but it's quite appropriate," Abdul-Jabbar said. 

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