Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting at a bar, drinking beer, eating food, and talking hoops with Bill Walton. It was part of an event set up by the fine folks at Guinness… and it allowed me and a handful of other bloggers to experience Bill Walton first hand.
And the man did not disappoint.
Right off the bat, he launched into his love for Jimmer Fredette:
"He's a combination of Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Danny Ainge and JJ Barrea"
Whoa. First off… how did JJ Barrea get thrown into that mix? That's a follow up that slid by. On Walton went on Jimmer:
"He just exemplifies everything you look for in a player. what makes it so much fun for me is he's a little skinny, scrawny kid.. which is what I used to be," Walton said. "Our world has become one of power, of size, and strength, of winners of the genetic lottery and there little Jimmer Fredette… just out there torching them all. And there's nothing on earth like beating the big guy. When you come out and you look at those big giant and you're just 'ok'… my mind, my spirit, my soul… it's all happy."
Seemlessly, he transitioned to Bill Russell:
"When I look at players today I don't look at stats, I look at control. And Russell controlled everything. He controlled every game, every play, every season.. and he did it without every having the ball in his hands. And it was just amazing. He guided it to his teammates… and he always set them up."
I asked him about being part of something special with the Celtics.
"I grew up in Laker country. Chick Hearn was the man that taught me how think about basketball, how play basketball, how to love basketball, how to love LIFE. But the way Chick talked about Bill Russell…. "
Bill then sidetracked into a story about how he didn't have a TV growing up. So he listened to games on the radio.
"I had the radio, and I had Chick. And the way Chick talked about Bill Russell that's how I love with the Celtics. The way he carried himself. The way he did everything others couldn't or wouldn't do. Bill Russell was one of those supremely unique characters and personalities and talents who could and did do anything he wanted to do but his choices in life were to make a difference for other people. And his combination of Red Auerbach, and that whole Celtic thing.. that was me as little Billy… and I became a Celtic"
And then he added…
"And now I'm here in an Irish sports bar with Guinness… you're telling me this isn't a dream? You're telling me dreams don't come true? I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
With the C's hitting a rough patch in March, I tried to make a tie with March Madness being the high-point for college basketball but an apparent low point for some teams in the NBA. So I asked him if it got boring at this point of the season… which led to this exchange
"No… it never gets boring."
"But playing it though?"
"The only time playing basketball is not fun… when it's not better than perfect is when you're hurt"
"Which you know nothing about…"
"I know far too much about it. I have one skill in life, which is being in places where I don't belong."
Of course, Bill waxed poetic about John Wooden and his days in UCLA. He talked about how he'd question everything Wooden would say and Wooden would respond with "it's been a pleasure having you… we'll miss you" and "Bill, you are the slowest learner I've ever had."
A running theme with Bill was part philosophy, part Guinness pitch. He was constantly, saying "Be Bold, quit your job, chase your dreams." Now… "Be Bold" is the Guinness tag line… but the PR reps there were very eager to make sure that the "quit your job" part was Bill's ad-lib… and they'd advise against actually quitting your job.
Here's the audio recorded from yesterday. There is much more than what I've written here, and it's classic Bill. I apologize for the quality of the audio.. it's not great… but there was a lot of ambient noise and music being played. It's also unedited, so you might here PR people in the background just introducing themselves and giving us how much time is left.
It's in 3 parts, and it's about a half hour in total.