Walton returns to UCLA on Pac-12 tour
LOS ANGELES — Bill Walton arrived at the fourth stop on his Pac-12 campus tour a little early on Thursday.
He chatted with the newly erected statue of John Wooden outside of Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus to continue a few 40-year-old arguments.
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"He won every single argument that we had and I argued with him on every front," Walton said. "He would close every argument by saying, 'Bill, I admire and respect your position here but you know what? I'm the coach and while we've enjoyed having you, we're going to miss you.'
"That's when I knew I had crossed the line. I quickly ran back and jumped in the end of the line and started over again. When Coach was 96, (people) asked him, 'Were you really going to kick Walton off the team if he didn't cut his hair?' Unhesitantly, Coach Wooden answered, 'The only thing that matters is that Bill thought I was going to do it,' and I did. There was nothing more important than being on the team and being in the game of life. If you want to move things forward, you have to be a participant in the game of life."
Walton spoke to several hundred UCLA students in the new Pauley Pavilion's Pavilion Club in advance of the Bruins' game against the Oregon State Beavers, which – as Walton was quick to remind everyone in attendance – coincides with Michelle Obama's, Muhammad Ali's and Robert Kennedy's birthdays.
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The 6-foot-11 center spent four years in Westwood in the early 1970s and was part of the Bruins' record 88-game win streak. He never shied away from controversy, but Wooden was always there to rein him in.
"We thought he was crazy," Walton said. "It wasn't until I left that I realized he had our best interests at heart."
Walton bounced from topic to topic before stopping to take questions from students and staff (finishing most wandering responses with, "What was your question, again?") while assorted images from his life flashed on the walls.
References to The Grateful Dead, Neil Young and Bob Dylan were plentiful, but the conversation took a somber turn when Walton discussed a spine injury that left him contemplating suicide a few years ago, something he described as "being submerged in a vat of scalding acid." Once again, he turned to Wooden.
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"The two words at the top of the Pyramid of Success are faith and patience," Walton said. "Do you believe and are you willing to put the lifetime in that it takes to get this job done? Now I have no pain, no medication. It's a miracle. That's why I am proud to be here at UCLA."
After he finished, he stuck around to sign autographs and take photos with students.
"You are the chosen few," Walton said. "As I go around the Pac-12, believe me, this is the place."