The Wacky World of Bill Walton: In Two Minutes
Bill Walton has always been a handful. A maverick. Certifiably unconventional.
Well before he took over the college basketball airwaves, calling games on nearly every TV network that broadcasts them, while providing a spectacle wherever he goes, the effusive Walton used to test his legendary coach.
Walton at one time was the greatest player in the world, playing for a college basketball dynasty unmatched before or since, and he challenged the architect, the regal John Wooden, whenever he could. It was his nature to be obstinate, to show his independent streak.
Walton and Wooden argued over the player's long hair, his anti-war stance that got him arrested and his free-spirited ways that were always on display. Yet these two always seemed to find middle ground.
While I had been around him several times, I'd never spoken to the zany and approachable Walton until late Thursday afternoon before the Washington-Arizona game at Alaska Airlines Arena.
I'd met Wooden before. Four decades earlier, this great basketball coach actually greeted me as a long-haired college kid waking up in a sleeping bag that I had unfurled on a UCLA running track behind Pauley Pavilion.
It was 6:30 in the morning. Wooden, in powder blue and gold sweats, was walking around the track, doing laps as part of his recovery from a recent heart attack. One of my college buddies and I had hitchhiked to California, hoping to stay at a friend's UCLA fraternity house, but he wasn't around, it got dark and we thought the athletic facility looked like our best alternative.
Wooden spoke to us as we sat up and rubbed our eyes, stopped us as we started to walk away and invited us to breakfast. He was a total humanitarian and gentlemen. We were in awe of this man.
I walked up to Bill Walton after he did a TV spot with a college contemporary, former Huskies quarterback Sonny Sixkiller, and current UW basketball player RaeQuan Battle, both of whom are of Native-American heritage.
Seeing my chance, I asked Bill if I could interview him for the Husky Maven/Sports Illustrated website that I manage.
"After the game," he said, fist-bumping me because he could no longer shake hands because of their soreness.
Two hours later, just moments after the Huskies lost to Arizona 75-72, I wandered over to the electronic press row and approached Walton again, now off the air.
"After I talk to these guys," he said, pointing to others waiting on him. "Just wait a few minutes and I'll be done."
Telling him I had to head to post-game UW interviews and we'd probably miss connections, Walton disagreed, "I'll still be here."
More than a half hour later, I expected him to be long gone, but Walton was seated and surrounded by autograph hounds, plying him with photos, cards and jerseys to sign. One guy alone asked him to put his signature on more than 30 items.
Walton played basketball right-handed, but he signed the memorabilia with his left hand, using a large, sweeping signature.
Finally, he turned to me and said, "Sports Illustrated, right?"
I raised my iPhone to tape the moment, needing a video for everything I write and put up on the website, and he balked at that. His refusal caught me totally off guard.
"Just write it down," he said. "Or use your phone but don't put me on it. I don't want to be on that. I don't do that kind of thing unless it's set up."
"I just don't do that. I've been on the air for two hours and I don't look good."
"I need a video for everything I do."
"You're going to have to request that kind of interview through the University of Washington."
We debated this back and forth for a couple of minutes. Finally, I grabbed my laptop bag and good-naturedly started to walk away empty-handed and Walton caved.
I'm not sure Wooden ever got him to do that.
"Oh, just go ahead and do it," he said.
I turned on my iPhone video, introduced him and never got another word in.
Walton, for nearly two full minutes, was a total showman.
I'd heard him go off on TV, but never quite like this. I'm not sure where his spontaneity and creativity came from.
He was a Broadway play condensed into single act.
I stood there incredulous at what went on before me.
Once he was done, Walton just looked up at me, checking for a reaction I think.
Not sure where to go from there, I blurted out my Wooden/sleeping bag story.
"I used to hitchhike," he chimed in, as if giving his approval to my long-ago lifestyle.
We were done. I thanked him and walked away, somewhat in a daze over this weird and wacky Walton moment.
Check out the video. Even if you're not a fan of his theatrical TV presence, you might find this Bill Walton moment hypnotizing. It's entertainment.