All good things must end, or in this case, one just awesome conversation must end. This is the final part of our interview with Bill Walton. You can go back and read part 1 and part 2 if you missed them. Today in part 3, Bill discusses his views on the current state of UCLA Basketball.
Caveat: I started efforting this interview in the runup to the release of Bill's fantastic autobiography Back From the Dead: Searching For the Sound, Shining the Light, and Throwing It Down. In pursuing it, I submitted a list of questions because we were initially going to do this by mail. His people called me back (me, because I don't have people) and said he'd rather do a phone interview (yes!!!) but he didn't want to get into specific details about the current coach or players (aww..). Since Bill's focus was on his book, it made sense. There's a right time and a right place. Out of respect to Bill, I approached the topic very gently and generally, so don't expect Bill to name names or quote contracts or cite behaviors. But don't expect Bill to be totally silent on the matter, either. Not that that's a possibility anyway, right? And thank goodness for that.
BN: Your publicist mentioned you don't want to talk a whole lot about specifics about UCLA Basketball these days, but in the big picture, what should UCLA Basketball be to the school? How should that relationship be?
Bill: I'm a proud, loyal, and grateful Bruin and I always want what's best for UCLA because I know what they've done for me. They have given me the life that I have. Without UCLA, none of this would have happened.
And so, I'm hoping for better.
I want UCLA to be in the mix. Right now today, the top programs - UCLA has the top program in history of college basketball. UCLA has the most championships. UCLA is the reason the Pac-12 is the Conference of Champions. That history is there and undeniable and I am part of that and I am so proud of that. I want to see, I want to see UCLA there. I want every game sold out. I want the great time slots on television. I want deep runs in the championship. I want all the top recruits going there. I want every article that's ever written about college basketball and what's going on to be about UCLA.
Today, the top programs are in no particular order, I'll only give you five of them, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona. That's where the top players go and that's where the championships are generally decided and that where the huge fan bases are. UCLA had the first, the original great fan base, in the history of basketball where every single game was sold out. The made for television game that JD Morgan put together for January 18 1968, UCLA at Houston, the willingness of the Bruins to go on the road and sell this game and show what JD's vision was: "We've got Dick Enberg, we're on television, and so can you be if you have a quality program, a quality product that you can sell." And so as it's all unfolding, I just keep hoping...I'm hoping for better. I want more.
You know, you walk into the JD Morgan Center, you walk into the museum, the Hall of Fame there, you see all those championship trophies. And I say the same thing when I walk in there that I said when I was 12 years old and I first saw basketball on television. The very first game I ever saw, UCLA-Michigan, in Portland, Oregon, 1965 NCAA Championship Game. The same building, Memorial Coliseum, where I got to play later on for the Portland Trailblazers. And when I watched that game it completely changed my life, because on that day Gail Goodrish set an NCAA Championship Game record, 42 points, I said to myself, little Billy, that is what I want to do with the rest of my life. And I got to go through that my dreams came true, and I want that dream to continue. I want UCLA to be at the top and win all the championships and set all the records. Because there's nothing like it.
You have a dream and when that dream comes true, it's such a feeling of accomplishment, such a feeling of "Yeah, we were there!" and I visualize being on that court and seeing that entire arena just packed and not one empty seat. And who knows how many people were in it because most of the seats were benches. They just squeezed everyone in. And I love the press. I love the full court press. That full court press that made the statement "We're in control here. We're in charge." And there was John Wooden sitting over there, upright, direct as could be, with that little rolled up program, ranting, raving.
He was the orchestra leader. He was the professor in class. And the fans they were just overwhelming in their support and in their contribution. Because as we put the press on they would start the count. And they would start the count the second the ball went through the net, and as they got to "8, 9, 10!" they would be going at Grateful Dead speed at that point. The referees, they just crumbled under the pressure. We'd go out on the road and the fans, they would give anything to beat us and that was just so special.
When you're part of that travelling circus that you love and live for and it just all comes together, oh my gosh, that's what I want. I'm a proud loyal and grateful Bruin.
BN: Yup, fair enough. I think there are a lot of opinions on how to get there but the bottom line that holds us all together is we want to see what's best for UCLA.
Bill: Those are questions for the people who are in charge. That's for Steve, and that's for Dan Guerrero, and that's for Gene Block.
You know, I had it all. My regret is that I didn't know that I had it all. I just thought that's the way life was. I had such a perfect childhood. I had such a fantastic college experience until our senior year. We had so much fun. The records we set are still there. Nobody has done all that, and we could have and should have ben able to do so much more, but we didn't get it done. You learn these lessons. You learn these lessons when you fail. You learn these lessons when your body fails, when you stumble and fall in life.
That's what Wooden was just masterful at. He always gave us this passionate sense of building your life. The Pyramid of Success, the Seven Point Creed, two sets of threes, and the endless maxims. And we didn't understand any of this when he was telling us this. He was always trying to get as quickly as he could to the tools to overcome the adversity when the tough times came. We didn't have tough times until our senior year. The games were easy. Practice is what we loved because practice was so competitive. Swen, Andy Hill, Bob Webb, Vince Carson, Gary Franklin. These guys just drove us every single day. And the young guys coming up through that second string, Marques Johnson, Dave Meyers, Andre McCarter, Pete Trgovich, Ralph Drollinger. And how the older guys would come back. Walt, Gail, Pete, Kenny, Kareem, Lucius, Mike, Lynn, Sidney, Curtis, Steve, John, Henry. They would come back and say we're all just one family, we're all one team. It's just so great that the legacy keeps going on. That's what inspires pride. That's what inspires loyalty. That's what inspires sacrifice.
And we had this guy, John Wooden, who was just so perfect. And then I ruined his life. And we stood there that day in June 2010, six years ago, when it was all over and there was a large number of us who stood in the very back and we just could not stop crying because we knew at that point that it was truly over and that we were on our own. Now it's up to us. He told us every day, his pregame speech was this, "I've done my job. The rest is up to you. When that game starts, don't ever look over here at the sidelines to me because there's nothing I can do to help you anymore."
Well, the game has started, and the rest is up to us.
BN: I think that says it all right there.
Bill: I still get to go to Pauley Pavilion, and Pauley Pavilion has never looked better, ever. And you drive up Westwood Blvd which just used to be this kinda scattered array of buildings. Now it's a great avenue. All the landscaping and all the new buildings and everywhere you go the school just looks fantastic. It's just nestled right in there. You get to go through the buildings of science and through the Botanical Gardens and I get go on campus and the Inverted Fountain and the Sculpture Garden and Janss Steps and the Quad and Royce Hall and Powell Library and the Law School and Bunche Hall and the Art school and what Mo Ostin has done, it's just fantastic.
We're just, we're just hoping for better. It's all right there. It's the greatest place in the world.
Our job, as Coach Wooden said is to make it better. And here we go.
Thus speaketh Bill Walton.
If you want 300 pages of this and more, you must get his awesome book Back From the Dead: Searching For the Sound, Shining the Light, and Throwing It Down. It is in all major bookstores and available online at Amazon here in print and here on audio. I have two hard copies of the book, but there's nothing like hearing Bill tell you these stories himself. Check them out, by whatever media necessary.
My sincere thanks go to Stephen Bedford and Julia Prosser from Simon & Schuster who responded to my one in a million plea and made this interview happen. Thanks most of all to my friend Bill for sharing his time and his love of UCLA and the Grateful Dead and bicycles and books and basketball and family and a lifetime full of things with all of us here at Bruins Nation. It's hard to imagine someone with more reverence for our beloved University and who preaches it at every opportunity. I think that is just awesome.
His final comment summarizes it all just perfectly.
UCLA is the greatest place in the world. It's our job to make it better.