On a number of occasions I have shared assembly gems. Precious stories and fables that I stumble upon listening to various podcasts and reading RSS feeds. This week – I met Swen. I say met, I was introduced to the life journey of Swen Nater on the way to work whist listening to Finding Mastery: Conversations with Michael Gervais.
The podcast interviews Jon Gordon, best-selling author and presenter. His newest book: the power of positive leadership has been featured on various US news shows and publications. The main themes for this podcast are – connection, relationships, leading, striving together and how to succeed as a team.
“Jon has spirit. And I think people are so attracted to him, because of that spirit. You can’t help but want to be better around him.”
Recruited by John Wooden as back up to Bill Walton, his primary role was helping to develop Bill Walton in practice. Hardly an enthusing invitation to a college basketball scholarship. Swen experienced a traumatic upbringing which eventually brought the young Swen to America aged 9.
Growing, adjusting and assimilating rapidly to a new culture, language and surrounding, Swen was soon the tallest lad in school. Someone eventually told him about basketball. Now a junior at Long Beach Wilson High School, Swen tried out for the team. He was unceremoniously cut and told not to come back.
Now a high school graduate, Swen was pursuing his dream of mathematics at a new Community College in the Southland, he was spotted by the assistant basketball coach and hustled into the office of Cypress’ head coach Don Johnson. Initially, Swen played very little at Cypress. But through relentless effort, a driving work ethic and wonderful mentoring from Johnson, by Swen’s second year at Cypress, he was a Junior College All-American.
Cypress Chargers played the UCLA freshmen team at Pauley Pavilion in the lead-in to the UCLA varsity game. Coach Wooden sat by himself in the stands that night and watched Swen tear it up. Though yet to be convinced, Wooden finally agreed to give Swen a scholarship but made it very clear to the promising talent that he would never play in any of the games.
Most things that coach Wooden has ever said turn out to be prophetic. Despite never playing in the games for the Bruins, Swen, like all of John Wooden’s students, developed both on and off the court. When Swen became the first member of his family to ever graduate from college, Swen became the first and only player in the history of NCAA basketball to be drafted in the first round without ever having started a college game. Swen went on to a 12-year professional career spanning three leagues — the ABA, NBA and Italian League setting numerous records.
Inspired by coach Wooden, Swen became a teacher himself when he stopped playing. He built a college, Christian Heritage College in suburban San Diego. He was the school’s athletic director, basketball coach and Algebra teacher. His teams at Christian Heritage won the national championship.
He is a published author, a film and video producer, a singer/song writer/guitar player and a poet, having penned more than 125 poems mostly to, for and about his former coach.
Today, Swen runs the Costco Corporation, $50 billion enterprise that is the largest company of its kind in the world.
Four years practicing against, arguably one basketballs all-time greats, most certainly sharpened Swen axe.