Through the years, there have always been milestones in sports thought to be untouchable. Once, Lou Gehrig's string of playing in 2,130 consecutive baseball games was on that list. Then Cal Ripken Jr. came along. Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 professional major golf championships was thought to be completely out of reach since no one else had won more than 11. The record still stands, but Tiger Woods now lurks just four behind. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is considered sacred, but Pete Rose did get within 12 of the magic number.
There's one men's college basketball record, though, that not only will never be broken, the likelihood is it will never even be threatened: 10 national titles. That's how many NCAA championships John Wooden won at UCLA. No other coach -- not Mike Krzyzewski, not Adolph Rupp, not Bob Knight, not Dean Smith -- has even gotten halfway to that mark. In fact, those four, generally considered the four greatest college basketball coaches in the game's history not named Wooden, have won 13 titles combined. Perhaps even more remarkable: Wooden won those 10 championships during a 12-season span, beginning in 1964 and ending in 1975, when he retired after UCLA beat Kentucky in that year's national championship game.
He was 64 when he walked away -- younger than Rupp, Knight or Smith were when they retired and the same age Krzyzewski will be next February. He was 99 when he died on Friday, the unquestioned best in the history of his sport. Some may talk about how Wooden won his titles in such a different era. Others will bring up the whispers about UCLA players being taken care of by the famous booster Sam Gilbert in ways that ran outside of NCAA regulations.
Either argument misses the forest for the trees. Wooden won in 1964 and 1965 with a small team that pressed all over the court. He won from 1967 through 1969 with center Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the greatest player in college basketball history. He won the two years after that with Steve Patterson, very decidedly not the greatest player in college basketball history, replacing Alcindor. Then he won twice more with Bill Walton in the middle, and he won his last title with a team that probably should have lost to Louisville in the national semifinals and easily could have lost to Kentucky in the championship game.
He also saw to it that almost all of his players graduated, and if freshmen had been eligible when Alcindor was a UCLA freshman in 1966, he might easily have won 10 straight national titles instead of nine in 10 years, from 1964 through 1973.
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