clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Must Read: Back From The Dead, a new autobiography from UCLA legend Bill Walton

Write It Down, Big Man!

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Imagine Bill Walton with that microphone and nothing to interrupt him.
Imagine Bill Walton with that microphone and nothing to interrupt him.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Marty Glickman taught me how to learn to speak. It is my greatest accomplishment in life - and everyone else's worst nightmare.  - Bill Walton, Back From The Dead

I love listening to Big Red.

Leaving the product on the floor aside, I always enjoy tuning in when Bill Walton is working a TV broadcast. Given the typically rigid and formulaic sports broadcasting dynamic, Bill's dreamy presence as a color commentator for college basketball games renders his thoughts much more colorful and entertaining than the usual chatter. Walton's deep breadth of interests and experiences are an enormous palette to work from, and there is always a "Where is he going this time?" sense to his commentary which keeps it unique and fresh and fascinating. It's one thing for your average ex-pro to shoehorn the usual clichés about athletic competition into a broadcast. It's another thing altogether to hear Bill drift from The Grateful Dead to a bull mastiff to John Wooden's Pyramid of Success to biking a mountain pass and have it all somehow, perfectly, explain basketball as a metaphor for life. So much so that it's often a disappointment when the game resumes and the play-by-play interrupts Bill's story time.

So thank goodness for this!

Bill Walton has written a memoir: Back From The Dead: Searching For The Sound, Shining The Light, and Throwing It Down. It goes on sale to the public tomorrow, March 22. Go get it, Bruins.

At last, Big Red with a platform and an open mike and no inconvenient action on the court to slow him down.

And, oh, the long strange trip it takes.

The book begins in a surprisingly dark place as Bill recalls his life in 2008 when his spine collapsed, rendering him disabled and leaving him in such severe chronic pain he writes that if he had a gun, he'd use it.

It's hard to imagine that a spirit as vibrant as his tie-dyed shirts and a personality as big his 6'11' frame could be brought so low that the brightest lights in his life, family, music, bikes, and basketball nearly faded out completely. But then Bill's personal story isn't full of middle ground. Events in his life tend to get classified as either the greatest thing in the known Universe or the end of all things good in the world. Sure, Bill may tend toward hyperbole at times, but you do always know where he stands.

The memoir covers his idyllic childhood in San Diego and his discovery of both his love and his exceptional talent for a sport that would become the dominant force in his life, taking him to multiple championships and MVP awards during his playing career from high school to UCLA to the NBA.

But if you've heard Bill speak on TV for more than a few minutes you know that he cannot be defined by basketball alone. The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, social activism and politics in the 60's and 70's, his love of bicycles and books and camping and travel, the highs and lows and ultimate betrayal he realized in the NBA with the Trailblazers, Clippers, and Celtics, overcoming a stutter to develop a career in broadcasting, a giant dog named Cortez, a who's-who of basketball fame, his current nonprofit work and philanthropy, and above all, his family are some of the vital components in his dynamic life and are all detailed in his memoir.

And of course, there is Walton's unmatched reverence for the man we all know as Coach.

The well-known story of Bill's haircut is there, but that was far from the worst of the clashes between the greatest coach in history and his "slowest learner" ever.

Back from The Dead is full of awesome tales from Bill's days in Westwood. Campus life, teammates, protests, practices and the locker room, the Curse of the Stolen Penny, and why U.C.L.A. really lost to Notre Dame (Digger is a wimp!) in 1974 to end the 88 game streak are just some of the topics that Bill revisits, sometimes with humor and other times with regret, but always with sincerity and an appreciation for their role in his life.

Listen here to Bill Walton read an excerpt from his book about his earliest days at U.C.L.A.

For any fan of Bruins Basketball, Back From The Dead is a wonderful and insightful retrospective and a worthy tribute to the program that set a standard and reached a level we will never see again in any sport and that left a legacy that we as Bruin fans are blessed to share. We revere Walton as an icon of those heady days and an ongoing ambassador of Coach's principles, and this book chronicles those elements beautifully.

Walton's life beyond U.C.L.A. is a completely enjoyable trip, interspersed with poignant lyrics from his favorite bands, through his amazing journey. Thankfully, that trip got a reprieve from the dark days of early 2008 and it now shows no sign of slowing down. The book follows a timeline that keeps the narrative focused but still allows Bill to float from thought to thought in the free-spirited almost stream-of-consciousness story telling that sets him apart. And, this time, there is no whistle to stop the flow until the final page. I loved this book and wished it wouldn't end.

Back From The Dead is ultimately an incredible story of challenges and resilience and hope that any reader, whether Bruin fan, basketball fan, Deadhead, or otherwise, can relate to and appreciate. Read this book and you will hear Walton's familiar deep lumbering voice talking to you, entertaining you, and most importantly, teaching you. Coach would be very proud, and probably a bit relieved.

"Write It Down, Big man!"


Back From The Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light, and Throwing It Down is published by Simon & Schuster and will be available at bookstores and online on March 22. In addition, Bill will make several appearances at bookstores in the coming weeks. Here is a current list of events and locations including a couple of Southland dates.

March 22 - New York City: NBA Store on Fifth Avenue - NYC (noon)
March 23 - Ridgewood, NJ: Bookends Bookstore - NJ (7pm)
March 28 - San Diego CA: Warwick's @ Sherwood Auditorium (7pm)
March 29 - Los Angeles CA: Barnes & Noble Events, The Grove (7pm)
April 9 - Portland OR: Powell's Books, Inc. (7pm)

An April date in Boston will be scheduled to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Celtics 1986 NBA Title.

If you don't take my word that this is great book, take it from Cortez.