Bill Walton: “I’m still a hippie and proud of it because we were right”
In a revealing Q&A with Vice, noted Deadhead and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton discusses the many aspects of his life, both past and present, including his early days at UCLA and on through his professional basketball careers.
One of the many highlights comes when Walton is asked about being a hippie, to which he responded: “I’m still a hippie and proud of it because we were right. We still think that way. I fought Coach Wooden on everything. I fought him on facial hair, hair length, wardrobe, Nixon, Vietnam, the cheerleaders.”
Walton continued, “He was mad as could be at me on a constant basis. You look at all the pictures of Coach Wooden before I got to UCLA in 1970. He looked pretty good, but immediately after I arrived, you could see him deteriorate. I basically ruined his life.”
Walton also discusses his sometimes rocky NBA career after spending some successful years with the Portland Trailblazers. “My greatest professional failure in life is the San Diego Clippers and the fact that I could not make it go in my hometown,” he said of his six years with the (then) San Diego Clippers. “I love San Diego, but my feet were just broken.”
The injury discussion leads to one of the darker revelations, where Walton details trouble he had in 2008 resulting from a spine injury that occurred when he was 21. “It ultimately came to a head in February of 2008 when my spine collapsed and I spent years, literally, lying on the floor. I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my insurance. I lost my dignity and self-respect and as I was lying there I was thinking, ‘This is not worth it! I would be better off dead.'”
When asked if he ever contemplated suicide, Walton said “absolutely” adding, “There was no way out. If I had owned a gun, I would’ve used it, but I was saved by a brilliant physician who was willing to take a risk in conjunction with a pioneering medical device company (NuVasive).”
The rest of the conversation touches briefly on Walton’s stuttering problem that he’s had since he was a child. “Learning how to speak is my greatest accomplishment and everybody else’s worst nightmare,” he says jokingly. Walton appropriately closes the interview with a Grateful Dead lyric when discussing his future, saying, “Right now, I am doing fantastic, but I also know how the song goes. ‘When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.'”