Stanford, Calif. - Bill Walton returned to Stanford – his old law school home – Wednesday for the eighth installment of his nine-stop Pac-12 campus tour.
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Though many of Walton’s connections to Stanford are well documented – including he and his son Nate’s time as graduate students – Walton said his biggest Stanford moment may have been one from his recruiting trip in the spring of 1969.
Walton, Greg Lee and Jamaal Wilkes (then Keith Wilkes), the three best high school players in the nation, spent their first weekend together as recruits of Stanford basketball head coach Howie Dallmar. At a lunch at Stanford Golf Course that weekend, when Dallmar got up to use the restroom leaving just the three recruits alone, Walton had an idea:
“Hey let’s forget all this Stanford stuff and go to UCLA together,” Walton said. The rest, as they say, is history. Three years later, when the trio were sophomores, all three started for the Bruins en route to a perfect 30-0 record and an NCAA championship.
[Related: Walton returns to UCLA on Pac-12 tour]
Though Walton didn’t end up playing for Stanford, he did come back years later for law school. Walton’s memories from those years are as much musical as they are academic.
Walton said he would “study all day,” go home for dinner, come back to the library and then head into downtown Palo Alto when the library closed to see Jerry Garcia perform at the Keystone three nights a week.
Walton – who has attended more than 835 Grateful Dead shows over the course of his life – often would watch Garcia and The Dead perform at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater while a law student. He told a story of one day when he led a group of his fellow students from the law library to Frost where Garcia was waiting to let them into a show.
“We just drifted and dreamed all night long,” Walton said, “and it was fantastic.”
But Wednesday, Walton’s visit was about broadcasting, not music. Throughout the talk, Walton repeatedly referenced the upcoming battle between Colorado and Stanford – “The Buffaloes and the Trees,” as Walton put it.
Though broadcasting is definitely Walton’s second career after basketball, his stories showed that he’s always had a passion for good broadcasters. Walton credited his favorite broadcaster, longtime Lakers great Chick Hearn, as even helping teach him how to play the game.
“Chick changed my whole world,” Walton said. “Chick is like every one of your teachers. He makes you dream. He makes you believe. And the broadcasters, they’re the most important people in the whole business that we’re doing because they’re the ones that make you care. They inspire you to make you believe this is bigger than some basketball game.”
Walton never got to call a game with Hearn. Hearn passed away in an accident after Walton’s son, Luke, was drafted by the Lakers, but before he played his first game.
Walton finished the event by taking two questions from the audience. The always-loquacious Walton needed only four questions from the moderator and two from the audience to keep the crowd entertained for 90 minutes.
Walton wraps up his campus tour March 6 at Cal. Walton will be on the call that night as Stanford travels to Berkeley for its final regular-season game of the year.
Sam Fisher is a junior at Stanford University majoring in symbolic systems. He is the sports desk editor at The Stanford Daily.