What is the best advice you've ever received?
John Wooden, my coach at UCLA, told me that to be a part of something special is a privilege, one that's earned every day, and it's not how good you are, it's how good your teammates are. When you're a fan of a superb basketball team, or when you're a fan of the Grateful Dead, you like that you're part of the deal. You feel that just by being there, you had something to do with the outcome of the show. It's a gigantic family.
What does the Dead do for you?
The Grateful Dead made me the person that I am, because all the things that I saw at that first concert in 1967 — happiness, interesting people, love, peace, and compassion — are all the things I believe in and try to incorporate into my life.
You've suffered from intense physical pain most of your life.
That's true. All my life I've lived with chronic bone and joint pain in my feet, knees, hands, and spine. You can grit your teeth through some pain, but nerve pain is totally different. It drove me to the ground and destroyed my life. You can't move, think, eat, or function. Life is not worth living, and none of the medications work. People kill themselves from spine pain more than any other malady, and I was there. The spine surgery I had seven years ago was un-questionably the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'm lucky because now I'm better, but I never would've made it without my wife, Lori.
You've become an avid cyclist. What draws you to biking?
My bike is the most valuable thing that I have because it incorporates everything that I believe in — science, technology, engineering, fitness. But what my bike really means to me is independence. I haven't been able to play basketball in 30 years, but I can ride my bike. With one step, one crank, one time around the block, one little hill, one giant mountain. My bike inspires me; it makes me feel fantastic.
Who are your favorite NBA players?
There's a difference between favorite and best. I love selflessness and passing — the team game — so three of my favorite players ever are Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and Steve Nash. They all played the game solely to make other people better. They went out there and asked themselves, "What can I do to help my teammates?" and I loved that.
You had a speech impediment when you were a kid. How hard was that to overcome and become a broadcaster?
I still have a speech impediment. I will forever be a stutterer. Nothing changed my life more than learning how to speak. I never spoke as a child because I thought that only the lucky people could talk. I wasn't taught until I was 28, and it's my greatest accomplishment. Come on, I'm 6-foot-11; I had red hair, big freckles, the most goofy, nerdy-looking face; I can't talk; and I'm a Deadhead. How many other broadcasters are out there with those qualifications?
What separates good from great?
Intelligence and emotional commitment, a willingness to put everything on the line. It drives me crazy when somebody says, "Well, this guy wanted it more than the other guy." Everybody wants it! It's like when somebody tells you to work hard. No kidding!
What do you take away from having been raised on the West Coast?
I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties in San Diego, so to me, California is the greatest spot on Earth. If the Pilgrims had landed in California, the East Coast would never have been anything but one giant national park. Why would we ever go there?
Bill Walton takes a closer look at his legendary life and career in his memoir, Back From the Dead, out this month.
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