Special New York correspondent, David Weinfeld, can be found at PhD Octopus, a blog written by a group of PhD historians. When not writing or studying, he continues his quest to eat every animal in the world.
Are you at work today? The nine to five grind getting to you? Is old man Leland busting your hide just to get those TPS reports done on time? If that sounds like your life, well then former NBA star and sportscaster Bill Walton has a message for you: “Quit your job and chase your dream!”
I heard Walton repeat that mantra again and again yesterday, but it never got old. I was one of several bloggers who had the opportunity to live a dream themselves (admittedly a strange dream): drinking Guinness in an Irish sports bar in New York and talking hoops with Big Bill Walton.
The theme of the gathering was the coming March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, which according to Walton, by “perfect harmonic convergence,” would begin on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.
Walton was in good spirits as he stooped underneath the low ceiling and plopped into a comfy chair and addressed his eager audience. He immediately got laughs when he informed the group that he was still “undefeated” in his bracket. While I drank a pint of Guinness, Walton limited himself to a cup of hot water, focusing instead on sharing the wisdom of the ages in anticipation of the big day.
If Lakers coach Phil Jackson is history’s biggest Zen Buddha, Bill Walton must be the world’s largest leprechaun. His attitude towards basketball is decidedly happy go lucky: “you play for fun, you play to learn life’s great lessons.” But his life wasn’t always pots of gold and rainbows. Walton shared some of those lessons he learned as a child.
“I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon, but I grew up with a golden dream.” When Walton was young, one of his dreams was to own a TV set. His mother, the town librarian, put it to him plainly: “You wanna eat or you wanna watch TV?” Eventually, one night at dinner, his mom reported that they had finally saved up enough to afford a television. Walton was overjoyed: “Yes! We’re gonna be cool!” But his mother quickly added: “I’ve been doing lots of research at the library, and there’s nothing on television worth watching, so we’re not going to get one.”
Walton made do with what he had; listening to Bill Russell’s exploits on the radio, and quickly fell in love. He excelled on the hardcourt, and under legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s tutelage, became a star. Still, Walton’s parents ask him: “You graduated from UCLA 37 years ago, but did you ever get a job?”
Education has always been number one to Walton, but he got so much more than an education on basketball from coach Wooden. He learned about life. And he kept Wooden’s words with him to this day. Walton insists that his house today is a shrine to four men: Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Saint John Wooden.
The two didn’t always get along, though. “I fought coach on every issue,” Walton insisted. “Politics, religion, social issues, the war, economics, whether the cheerleaders should be in our hotel after the game.”
Despite their arguments, Walton adored Wooden’s coaching, which was a “celebration of life.” Walton continues to hold Wooden up as a shining example, passing on the same nuggets to his son Luke that he scoffed at in his own youth, including the correct way to “put your shoes and socks on.”
One artifact of Wooden’s, however, Walton has kept to himself. “He didn’t leave anything to chance,” Walton stated matter of factly. “But he did carry a lucky penny.” Then Walton produced the coin from his pocket, with a huge grin on his face. It was the biggest penny I’d ever seen, but maybe that’s not surprising for the world’s largest leprechaun getting ready to celebrate the biggest college basketball tournament on St. Patrick’s Day.