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  Guest Editorial

The Value of Association

Posted 3/9/2011
By Merle Pfeifer, AAM

To be great, associate yourself with greatness.

Recently I was reading an article about "Achieving Greatness" in which the author related a lesson he learned from the late, great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA championships.

At the age of 97, Wooden shared the following story with Don Yaeger, a nationally acclaimed inspirational speaker. I will be taking excerpts from Yaeger's article that I hope you find as interesting as I did. It also explains why associations such as ASA are so important in our business lives.

"Many people, when they ask me about coaching great players, always ask me about my two most famous centers: Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabaar) and Bill Walton," the coach said. "But one of the greatest I ever coached is a player many wouldn't suspect. It was Swen Nater."

Right now, sports enthusiasts may be asking themselves "Who is Swen Nater?" This is what makes the story so interesting and why I think we can all relate. Swen was cut from his high school basketball team, even though he was 6 foot 11, because he was too clumsy. Swen didn't give up, though, and several years later made a community college team. He became talented enough that several four-year colleges offered him a scholarship.

At the time, UCLA and Wooden were in the middle of one of the most spectacular runs in all of sports, winning seven of eight national championships. Alcindor had graduated but Wooden had a new center, Walton, who he thought might be even better.

Nater's community college coach asked Wooden to consider his player. "I was told that at the very least, he could be a great practice opponent for Walton," Wooden recalled. "So I spoke with Swen. I was honest. I told him he could go to a small school and play all the minutes he wanted, or he could come to UCLA, where he likely would never start a game, but where he could play against the best center in the country. That's the best I could offer him."

Nater didn't flinch. He accepted the opportunity and as Wooden promised, he didn't start a single game at UCLA.

"Swen understood that to become the best he needed to associate himself with the best," Wooden said. "There was no better than Bill Walton."

When his three years at UCLA were complete, Nater had been part of a team that won a recorded-breaking 88 straight games and had played for three more national championships - all as Walton's backup.

Nater then made history when he became the first player selected in the first professional basketball draft round without ever starting a college game. He played 12 years professionally and now is a Costco senior executive.

Coach Wooden was succinct: "Mark these words ... You will never outperform your inner circle; if you want to achieve more, the first thing you should do is improve your inner circle."

At its core, that is exactly why associations hold monthly meetings and semiannual events. These meetings and events are an opportunity to improve one's inner circle, to become more knowledgeable, and associate with the very best.

Like Swen Nater, each of us has identified those in our profession who we learn from and who share our passion as business owners as well as a passion for our industry. When attending meetings, introduce yourself and spend time learning from other business owners what makes them successful.

You'll be amazed by what you can achieve when you surround yourself with those headed in the same direction. By doing this, you'll understand why John Wooden said association with the best is the best way to become great.

Merle Pfeifer, AAM Merle Pfeifer, AAM, is the owner of Sparks Car Care Inc., Federal Way, Wash., an ASA member shop. He serves on the Mechanical Division Operations Committee. He may be reached at


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