Louis CK’s Career Has An Unlikely Influence: Legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden

  • Glenn Davis

The late John Wooden was known for one thing above all else: winning. His UCLA basketball teams won 10 national championships, including seven straight at one point. The 10 titles came in his final 12 years. It was a run of dominance unlike any the sport has seen before or since.

And what Wooden might be best known for aside from the winning: the way he did it. Wooden’s ironclad philosophy on life, his idea of success, and his meticulously designed path for getting there (encapsulated in his Pyramid of Success) are often followed and sometimes parodied…but for Wooden, it – along with having players like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton on his side – sure worked. Here’s Wooden on success:

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

You’ll notice there’s nothing about basketball – or even sports – in there, which is undoubtedly how Wooden, who thought of himself as a teacher first and foremost, wanted it. It also means that, since sports aren’t mentioned, this idea of success could apply to any number of fields (again, doubtless what Wooden wanted).

And that’s where Louis CK comes in. The fantastic stand-up comic and star-writer-director-creator-everythinger behind the superb FX show Louie recently did an interview with the A.V. Club that at one point touched on his work ethic. How does CK do what he does?

I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work. I remember seeing this thing, a documentary about a Los Angeles coach [John Wooden], the guy who coached UCLA to huge wins, so they couldn’t be beat for three seasons.


He didn’t make winning speeches. He never made speeches about being winners and being the best…he said that to focus on that, to win, win, win, is worthless. It just has no value. He’d address all his players in his little voice, “If you just listen to me, and you work on your fundamentals and you apply yourself to working on these skills, you’re probably going to be happy with the results.” I think about that all the time.

So not only did Wooden’s advice profoundly impact someone at the top of an entirely different field, it profoundly impacted a guy who can’t even remember his name. And while Wooden himself might have had misgivings about indirectly helping inspire this, we do not share those misgivings.

If anything, we’re left more impressed with Wooden’s formula for success than ever. If you can inspire a basketball tram to untouchable greatness and a guy with a routine about receiving the saddest handjob in the world, that’s when you know your message can reach just about anyone.