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Walton spins lively yarns in ‘Sports Night’ talk

CARLSBAD — Every month residents at La Costa Glen race to gobble up tickets to listen to tales of the sporting world.

Developed five years ago, the retirement community’s monthly “Sports Night” has become a big hit.

Last week, however, was the most popular event to date as more than 100 people packed the facility’s common room to listen to San Diego legend Bill Walton spin yarns and sign copies of his book, “Back from the Dead.”

“People were complaining because they couldn’t sign up fast enough,” said Mel Kerner, one of the event’s organizers. “We go out in the community and think of people who might come and get in touch with them.”

Kerner, a resident and the night’s emcee, attempted to introduce Walton several times, but the gregarious 63-year-old basketball Hall of Famer kept cutting Kerner off with a joke or story, which would fan out into several other tales before circling back to the original topic.

Kerner took the reins of the monthly gathering about three years ago and it has morphed into the most popular, or at least one of, events at the community.

The list of professional and college sports figures is impressive: skateboarder Tony Hawk, Joe Harper of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, San Diego State football coach Rocky Long, former Major League Baseball pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, Bruce Walton, Bill’s brother who played in the NFL, and Kerner’s son, Dave Kerner, a sports radio reporter in Chicago, to name a few.

The evening begins with dinner and culminates with a question and answer session.

“I’ve been working on Bill for about a year,” Kerner said. “After several months, because of his schedule, he finally agreed. I wrote him a letter and Bruce (Walton) gave him the letter.”

Walton, meanwhile, discussed his illustrious college career at UCLA in the early 1970s, where he won two national championships and won a men’s-record 88 consecutive games as part of the greatest collegiate dynasty in history. He also reminisced about winning the NBA title in Portland and followed with how his career was derailed by dozens of operations and “bad feet.” In total, Walton has had 37 surgeries.

Walton, who overcame a vicious stutter and is now a broadcaster for ESPN, spoke of how he worked through the condition to become one of the networks most colorful analysts.

He said legendary broadcaster Marty Glickman gave Walton tips, exercises and other techniques to overcome the stutter.

“Now they are scouring the Earth to find the person to get to stop talking,” Walton joked.

He also praised his parents, although they were not sports fans, and how their devotion to family created a strong bond with them and his siblings. Walton also raved about his brother, Bruce, and their relationship noting they are the only two brothers to ever play in the NBA Finals and Super Bowl (Bruce Walton played for the Dallas Cowboys, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X).

Walton, though, also shared his darkest times, such as contemplating suicide about eight years ago after his spine collapsed.

“It was like a scalding vat of acid with electricity,” Walton said of the pain.

He said his wife, Lori, pulled him through coupled with a new surgery to fix his spine.

The surgery got Walton back on his bike — which he rides constantly — back to work, back on the road with his favorite band, The Grateful Dead, and back with his family.

He also took a shot at aging when he said the state of play in the NBA today is better than it has ever been.

“The surest sign of aging is when we’re whining how good it used to be,” he smiled.