I will admit up front that there are very few professional athletes or celebrities whom I can say I’ve “followed” over the years beyond their latest accomplishments.
Bill Walton is one of those few. Going way back, even as a little kid, I loved his hippie style, how he was so not a typical jock full of the same cliché sound bites. He marched to the beat of his own drummer and because of his immense talent, has been able to create a career in broadcasting and philanthropy after basketball that has served him well.
If you have ever caught him as the color commentator for Pac 12 basketball broadcasts, you know how entertaining he can be. I always make it a point to stop channel surfing when I see that it’s Walton on the mic, as a great story is coming soon that may or may not be basketball-related … and that’s the beauty of it.
I also have several framed Sports Illustrated covers from my youth hanging in my home office and that collection includes a 1979 cover of a bearded Walton in a suit tossing a basketball in the air.
So, yes, it was a thrill to join him in the lush gardens outside his San Diego home recently to record an LTP on 101KGB show and gather content for this column.
One of his latest ventures and what brought me together with Bill for an amazing interview is called Bike for Humanity. It benefits Free Bikes 4 Kidz, No Kid Hungry, The Rex Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
This global initiative created by Walton in April is gearing up for its second rendition with a star-studded cast of elite athletes and celebrities when the ElliptiGO Bike for Humanity II presented by Banner Bank and Events.com takes to streets around the world on Saturday, July 25.
It’s an opportunity for participants to get out and ride their bikes for up to two hours during the day to support four outstanding organizations that are doing incredible work in the community. This is such a worthy event and all you have to do is register here and get on your bike for a few hours this coming Saturday. Go here to register: www.bikeforhumanity.com
So that’s what brought us together, but I should say that Bill seemed equally enthused to talk food, music and plate licking with me. I was well aware of his passion for music of all kinds but in particular, the Grateful Dead, whom he has seen 500+ times and with whom he has appeared many times on stage.
That and the fact that his first concert growing up in San Diego was Carlos Santana and, instead of a dream concert lineup of three bands on a stage for a night, he came up with a fantasy music festival full of his favorites, including one of mine, Bob Seger.
I can also recall seeing Walton on stage at a Bob Dylan concert at the Del Mar Fair several years ago. Needless to say, his tastes in music are eclectic and diverse, which is the only way to go, in my opinion.
Growing up in a family of big hungry guys, Bill also developed a passion for food and, as he put it, “I licked the plate to get every last bite.”
Yes, I loved that comment! Another pleasant surprise is that he has limited food restrictions, and while keeping a very healthy eating regime most of the time, he does indulge in meat, fish and poultry on occasion to satisfy those cravings. I had a feeling I was going to dig Bill Walton before we met and as our conversation progressed he just kept validating that notion.
For those of you unfamiliar with his athletic accomplishments, they are extensive and impressive and I would encourage you to search his name online not only for his athletic accomplishments but those relating to music, broadcasting and philanthropy.
Walton attended high school in San Diego where he attracted the attention of John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins. At UCLA, he won three successive national college player of the year awards, led the Bruins to NCAA championships in 1972 and 1973 and was part of an 88-game winning streak.
After being selected as the first overall pick in the 1974 draft, by the Portland Trail Blazers, he led them to an NBA championship in 1977. He won another title with the Boston Celtics in 1986 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. All of this despite a history of injuries and surgeries going back to high school.
Post-NBA had him embarking on a second career as a sportscaster, working as both a studio analyst and color commentator, and he won an Emmy Award in 1991. This is even more impressive considering he overcame stuttering to make it happen.
So yeah, I am a big fan of Bill Walton’s accomplishments as a basketball player, his eclectic passion for life and music, and his dedication, through projects like Bike for Humanity, to use his celebrity to help those less fortunate. Again, please check out this virtual event happening Saturday, July 25.
Go to www.bikeforhumanity.com for all the details and I will see you pedaling around coastal North County this weekend!