Those who played for him had the benefit of many, many hours with Wooden and more often mention sayings such as "Be quick but don't hurry," and "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Bill Walton, who went on to become one of the best players in NBA history and is now an ABC and ESPN analyst, used to write Wooden's maxims on his four sons' lunch bags. (One of them, Luke, grew up to play for the Lakers.)
Yet for those who never had much interaction with Wooden, the pyramid was the map to his philosophies.
At McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Wash., a group of Western Air Defense Sector personnel spent three days in 2004 studying the pyramid.
"The pinnacle — Competitive Greatness — that is a tough but attainable goal," Lt. Col. Eric Vogt said at the time. "I found myself thinking about how to be competitively great as much as possible. In the military, it's got to be 100% perfect response every day. With our mission, there's no room for error."
Though it was as a teacher that Wooden began working on the pyramid, the beginnings of the idea were sown earlier, by a high school teacher who asked his class to define success, by his father's emphasis on doing your best without comparing yourself to others, and by a diagram of values used by his high school coach, Glenn Curtis, called the Ladder of Achievement.
Instead of a ladder, Wooden chose a pyramid, with "Industriousness" and "Enthusiasm" as its cornerstones.
Late in life, as he celebrated the arrival of more and more great-grandchildren, Wooden took particular satisfaction in the children's book, "Inch and Miles," he wrote with his frequent collaborator, Steve Jamison.
In the children's pyramid, "Industriousness" became "Hard Work," "Initiative" became "Action," and "Competitive Greatness" became "Personal Best."
"My definition of success for a child is happiness in your heart, knowing you tried your best," Wooden said in 2004.
The book incorporated Wooden's love of rhyming couplets, with a short poem on each block of the pyramid.
The wittiest might be the one on self-control, accompanied by an illustration of a rather impulsive-looking trout.
If success is your great goal,
You must practice Self-Control.
Use common sense in all you do.
Controlling emotions is helpful too.
I knew a fish who took the bait.
Good judgment gone, the hook he ate.
My friend was fried upon the grill.
With Self-Control, he'd be here still.
His long life nearing its end, in 2004 Wooden considered the likelihood that his Pyramid of Success would be studied by children and adults for decades after his death.
"If it helps somebody, I hope I'll be looking down and thinking it's good," he said.
This article was originally published on June 5, 2010.