Bill Walton Offers Words of Hope on Behalf of Oaklawn Foundation

May 17, 2013

“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble/Ancient footprints are everywhere/You can almost think that you’re seein’ double/On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs/Got to hurry on back to my hotel room/Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece/She promised that she’d be right there with me/When I paint my masterpiece/Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum/Dodging lions and wastin’ time/Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em/Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb ...” — Bob Dylan from “When I Paint My Masterpiece”

Bill Walton — 32 days after his 37th orthopedic operation, this time a knee replacement — was in town to offer words of encouragement as the keynote speaker at the Oaklawn Foundation’s Spring Spectacular.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” said Walton at the beginning and end of his remarks in a presentation called “Climbing Back To The Top Of The Mountain One More Time,” a rambling talk by the 6-foot-11 ball of energy that lasted 90 minutes and brought awareness to the mission and ministry of the faith-based mental health agency that brought him to The Lerner Theatre.

Oaklawn, under the direction of president Laurie Nafziger and medical director Daniel Kinsey, touts itself as the area’s largest provider of addiction and mental health services, helping 14,500 people annually deal with issues such as denial, isolation, shame and stigma without being judgemental.

Quoting liberally from his favorite poets — rock musicians Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Neil Young — the basketball Hall of Famer talked about growing up in San Diego and learning at a young age that the goal in life is to be happy.

Before back surgery a few years ago, Walton was anything but happy.

“When my spine failed, I didn’t know what to do,” said Walton, who spent three years mostly lying on the floor in agony. “It was like being submerged in a vat of scalding acid with an electrifying current.

“I was on the edge of the bridge. If I had a gun, I would have used it.”

But Walton, who had endured his first surgery at age 14, listened to all the people who told him not to give up and with medical assistance is pain free.

Getting past the physical and mental roadblocks in his own life have called Walton to give back.

“I said, ‘if I ever get up, what am I going to with the rest of my life?’” said Walton, who spends much of his life spreading his message of hope to the less fortunate.

“You have to think of all those people who can’t stand up on their own,” said Walton. “As a leader, you have to do what others can’t and won’t do.

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to pay you back.”

Walton, who won championships at UCLA and with the Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics, also talked about John Wooden, an Indiana and basketball legend. The 6-foot-11 Walton described himself as the coach’s “easiest recruit” and “greatest nightmare.”

A perpetual thorn in Wooden’s side, the coach called him his “slowest learner” and Walton chided Wooden that it took 14 years to come up with the 15 words in his original “Pyramid of Success.”

Years later Wooden, at age 99 and near his death, he admitted to his former players and friends that he had made a mistake in the pyramid by omitting one powerful word — love.

“Love is the single most important part of our culture,” said Walton.

“I thought I heard a baby cry this morning/I thought I heard a baby cry this today/You didn’t hear no baby cry this morning/You didn’t hear no baby cry today/Where have all the people gone my honey/Where have all the people gone today/There’s no need for you to be worrying about all those people/You never see those people anyway ...” — Jerry Garcia from “Morning Dew”