Sideline legend

He was born a Hoosier, grew up in Martinsville and lived to be 99 years old … and here’s the story.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the new Bill Walton book, “Back from the Dead.” Walton played college basketball for legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA in the 1970s.

Wooden’s life has been well documented, of course — an Indiana all-state basketball player at Martinsville High School in the 1920s, a college All-American player at Purdue University and coach of 10 national championships at UCLA.

In Walton’s book, he spends a lot of time heaping praise on Wooden, but it’s Page 110 that really caught my attention.

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In 1994, when Wooden was 84 years old, he and Walton were in Washington, D.C., for some sort of honors event. During their free time one afternoon, Walton took Wooden to the Lincoln Memorial.

While they were there, a crowd gathered around them seeking autographs. Wooden ever so humble advised the crowd he believed it would be disrespectful to sign autographs at such a sacred place. The crowd settled but still followed the pair around.

Out of nowhere, Wooden turned and faced the crowd and began reciting the Gettysburg Address, gently smiling as he proudly spoke the words. “Four score and seven years ago…”

The crowd closed in on Wooden, and in dead silence, they listened in awe as the 84-year-old man recited Lincoln’s words — word for word.

Before long, many of them were crying, sobbing. And when he was done, the crowd started cheering, their applause roaring through the stoned halls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Wooden embarrassed by the commotion, asked them to settle down again, and when they did, he and Walton gracefully strolled off.

John Wooden … Hoosier.

Mike Barrett is a local resident with an interest in history. His Backroads Indiana columns regularly appear in The Tribune. Send comments to