Anchored just a few steps outside the north entrance of Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA is a heroic-sized statue of basketball coach John Wooden.
Crafted by LDS sculptor Blair Buswell, the 8-foot-tall bronze immortalizes both the iconic man and the principles of excellence he espoused.
The late Coach Wooden’s achievements are the stuff of legend. Between 1964 and 1975, he guided UCLA to 10 national championships. At one point, his Bruins won 88 straight games. Such success was unprecedented and even magical — earning him the nickname the “Wizard of Westwood.”
Along the way, he recruited and mentored several of the college game’s all-time greats — including Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Bill Walton and Sidney Wicks.
So how did he realize such success? What set John Wooden apart from countless other hard-working and ambitious college coaches? A recounting of one of his annual practice traditions perhaps offers the answers.
At the beginning of each season, Coach Wooden gathered his new players about him and talked about shoelaces. Not championships or hoop dreams or All-America honors, but shoelaces. He explained that tying shoelaces the right way — tight and even — was the first step to staying healthy during a grueling basketball season.
He would then demonstrate the proper way to lace up a pair of basketball high tops. Then he asked the players to follow his lead.
“He didn’t want blisters,” former UCLA player Rich Levin told the New York Times. “I mean, that’s not a serious illness, but you could miss a game or two.”
During his coaching career, John Wooden obviously mastered the intricacies of preparing a college basketball team for competition. He could motivate young men. He understood the game’s “X’s and O’s.” But he never forgot the basics — including the value of properly laced sneakers.
So it is with the gospel. A life of deep gospel exploration and education is admirable, but we must never forget the basics.
The world is increasingly defined by nuance and shifting layers of truth. But an understanding of life’s most complicated matters remains paradoxically grounded to gospel basics: prayer and scripture study.
In his April 1993 general conference address, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said blessings continue to be found by committing to these two basic practices.
“Never let a day go by without holding family prayer and family scripture study,” he counseled. “Put this, the Lord’s program, to the test, and see if it does not bless your home with greater peace, hope, love and faith.
“I promise you that daily family prayer and scripture study will build within the walls of your home a security and bonding that will enrich your lives and prepare your families to meet the challenges of today and the eternities to come.
“God grant unto us the desire to seek Him reverently and humbly in prayer and the sincere desire to study His word, as contained in His holy scriptures.”
The prophet Alma surely understood the deeper elements of the gospel, but in his final instruction to his son, Helaman, he opted to teach this fundamental lesson:
“ ‘Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
“ ‘Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.’ ” (Alma 37:36–37.)
Alma’s latter-day prophetic counterpart, Joseph Smith, also understood the timeless role of daily prayer.
“Seek [to] know God in your closets, call upon him in the fields,” he said. “Follow the directions of the Book of Mormon, and pray over, and for your families, your cattle, your flocks, your herds, your corn, and all things that you possess; ask the blessing of God upon your labors, and everything you engage in” (History of the Church, 5:31).
Church leaders continue to teach the symbiotic relationship between daily prayer and daily scripture study. It’s impossible to truly practice one without the other. President Ezra Taft Benson observed that prayerful scripture study transitions naturally into other areas of gospel activity. Testimonies increase. Commitment is strengthened. Families are fortified, and personal revelation flows.
“Let us not treat lightly the great things we have received from the hand of the Lord,” he taught in his April 1986 general conference address. “His word is one of the most valuable gifts He has given us. I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your callings. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and treasure them. ”
Daily scripture study, added President Spencer W. Kimball, acts as a prayerful and proven conduit to the divine.
“If I immerse myself in the scriptures ... I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 135).