BERKELEY, Calif. — If Bill Walton had his way, he would have been a Cal student.
The legendary UCLA and NBA star covered this and many other topics at the Haas Pavilion Club Room during the final stop of his “Walton on Wheels” tour of Pac-12 campuses on Wednesday. His stories came back to common themes: hope and success, not giving up, the Grateful Dead and, yes, Berkeley.
“Berkeley, oh my gosh,” said Walton, wearing a tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt with dancing bears. “How better than perfect to be back here in the cradle of civilization.”
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While playing for iconic coach John Wooden in the early 1970s, Walton recalled asking Wooden if he could go to Berkeley in the spring quarter after the basketball season had ended. Not surprisingly, Wooden was unamused.
“He looked at me and said, ‘No, you’re not,’” Walton said.
In the NBA, Walton became the highest-paid player in sports but the quality of his life went down. It did not compare to his time at UCLA with Wooden as his teacher.
“He was right about everything he ever talked to us about,” Walton said. “We just didn’t know it.”
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A small contingent of Cal men’s basketball players were present at Wednesday’s event, including Robert Thurman and Richard Solomon. Walton called them out, and joked that the Grateful Dead’s song “King Solomon’s Marbles” is indeed about Cal’s junior forward.
There were serious moments as well. Walton talked about his struggles — his many injuries, his 36 orthopedic operations, and back pain that forced him to spend three years, as he put it, “on the ground.”
But he made it through, all the way to Berkeley, for Walton’s love for the Bay Area knows no bounds. If the pilgrims had arrived at the San Francisco Bay, Walton said, “the East Coast would still be wilderness.” He noted all the famous musicians and entrepreneurs from the Bay Area, including Rolling Stones’ Jann Wenner, a former Cal student, and Berkeley-based audio industry innovators Meyer Sound.
He also encouraged students to go talk to UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton.
“If you want to find where you’re going, find someone who’s on their way back,” he told the audience. “They created this stage, this platform for you.
“As you chase your dreams, realize that you’ll never know how it’s going to play out.”
UC Berkeley senior Jonathan Kuperberg is a senior staff writer for the Daily Californian. Photo credit to Michael Drummond/The Daily Californian.