Bill Walton: Grateful for time spent with Bill Walton, some volleyball ties...

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Published Time: 28.05.2024 - 21:01:39 Modified Time: 28.05.2024 - 21:01:39

For that matter, it was the culmination of Kirk’s career at Berry College that led me to write HoopDaddy, a book that published in 2005 fathers, sons and basketball. Bill Walton

I first met him Thanksgiving week of 1990 when LSU basketball coach Dale Brown brought Walton in to help young Shaquille O’Neal. I was the LSU basketball beat writer for the local newspaper, The Advocate, and that was a special practice week.

We’ve looked everywhere, but neither my son, Kirk, nor I can find the picture we have of him rebounding for Walton and O’Neal. He was 8 and would one day play college basketball.

For that matter, it was the culmination of Kirk’s career at Berry College that led me to write HoopDaddy, a book that published in 2005 fathers, sons and basketball.

One of the chapters was the Waltons, Bill and his basketball-playing sons Luke, Nate, Adam and Sam.

As you no doubt know by now from the outpouring of love and tributes, Walton was gracious with his time and was a pleasure to interview. For HoopDaddy, we met and stayed all day on a set in Pasadena in 2004 when Walton was there shooting an NBA Nike commercial. We interviewed in between takes in his trailer. I never took a photo with Bill, but my wife, Brenda, shot this that day:

And while Walton was a hoops guy through and through, he was not unfamiliar with beach volleyball.

“I played with him in a few tourneys.” his longtime friend Jon Lee said. “Once against Wilt at the Muscle Beach Open. We played an exhibition at Huntington vs. Lee and Menges, too. He loved the scene.”

Lee was Jon’s brother, Greg, who died last year. Greg and Bill were best of friends. Greg often played beach volleyball with the Walton boys. The celebration of Greg’s life was at Walton’s home. This photo is from that day:

Back to that time they played together.

“Wilt played with Pete Aronchick, a 6-8 AAA beach player and basketball stud. We won game one, but the heat got to the redhead and we lost in three,” Lee recalled. “Only match I’ve ever been the quickest guy on the court.”

Greg Lee was not only Walton’s UCLA basketball teammate, but an outstanding beach volleyball player. He didn’t play volleyball at UCLA, got involved in the game at Sorrento Beach. Greg Lee went into the Calfornia Beach Volleyball Association Hall of Fame in 1997.

Luke Walton, a longtime NBA player who won two titles himself, was also a really good beach player. He was a fixture at the Charlie Saikley 6-Man Beach Volleyball Tournament on Manhattan Beach. What’s more, his wife, Bre Ladd, played volleyball at Arizona.

Former Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio recalled that Luke and basketball teammate Richard Jefferson used to come play volleyball in the Wildcats gym.

We can always tie things to volleyball.

Anyway, my personal favorite Bill Walton story, which does not include volleyball:

It was at the 1995 NCAA basketball Final Four in Seattle. Earlier that year, Walton’s son, Adam, committed to play at LSU. That morning at breakfast, I saw Bill and asked if I could get a few quotes from him Adam. He said sure, but asked if I could drop by his hotel room that afternoon.

(A quick note Adam. He played sparingly in two seasons at LSU, 1995-97. A favorite Adam story: I was walking to an LSU practice, which had already started, and Adam was just getting to the arena, shuffling along in flip flops, baggy shorts, and a really well-worn Grateful Dead T-shirt. I told him it warmed my heart to see a Walton in a Dead shirt. He laughed and told me he stole it from his dad.)

Anyway, back to Seattle. I got dressed for the basketball games, jacket and tie and all that, and went to Walton’s room. His wife, Lori, answered, and said that Bill was doing a radio interview but knew I was coming.

I walked in and Bill was, in fact, doing a radio interview.

He was leaning back in a chair, all 7 feet of him stretched out, phone to his ear, and the only thing he was wearing was a washcloth on his crotch.

“Don’t get dressed for me,” I cracked.

He smiled and kept on with his interview.

When he finished, he grabbed a big towel, we did talked Adam Walton, and, well, that story cracks me up to this day.

We kept in touch and would see each other at least once a year at the Final Four. And then he was so great that day in Pasadena for the HoopDaddy chapter. That was 20 years ago this December with a lot of basketball behind us. And I still stand by what I wrote in the chapter the Waltons:

“My choice for the ultimate HoopDaddy?

Bill Walton.”

I was a huge Bill Walton fan long before I ever met him. His career, and life, is so well documented and this week tributes are everywhere from folks who knew him better than me.

But his death at 71 on Monday stunned and saddened me. I am more than grateful for my own Bill Walton memories.

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