Plaschke: We are grateful for Bill Walton’s kindness and wonderful wackiness

One of my most memorable encounters with Bill Walton was when I had the opportunity to hear his iconic voice.

In October 2000, the day before John Wooden’s 90th birthday, I had the opportunity to visit Coach in his modest Encino condo. While we were chatting, the phone suddenly rang and the answering machine picked up.

All of a sudden, the room was filled with a recognizable deep and gravelly singing coming from far away.

“Happy birthday to you … happy birthday to you … happy birthday from Australia…”

Wooden had a smile on his face.

“Oh, that’s Bill Walton,” he exclaimed.

As the song came to an end, Walton’s enthusiasm only grew. Even though he was just a voice on an answering machine, he didn’t hesitate to share details about the weather, his vacation, and other everyday topics. It quickly became clear that his conversation wasn’t just idle chit-chat.

Walton’s determination was unwavering as he eagerly awaited the moment when Wooden would make his leisurely stroll from the family room to answer the phone call.

He would call twice a week, eagerly waiting for his aging coach to pick up the phone. Patiently, he would pass the time until he heard his mentor’s voice on the other end.

An act of thoughtfulness, so simple yet breathtakingly beautiful.

The essence of Bill Walton was unmistakable.

When that day finally arrived, Wooden couldn’t help but smile as he gently held the receiver to his ear.

He assured Walton, “Bill, Bill, I love you too. Yes, it’s me, I’m here.”

After fifteen minutes, their conversation came to an end. Wooden hung up the phone and then returned to his chair, where he proceeded to explain.

“He calls me twice a week,” he said, his smile still intact. “I absolutely love our conversations, although I must admit, I don’t do much of the talking.”

Bill Walton, a beloved and eccentric figure in the sports world, passed away on Monday at the age of 71. His kind-hearted nature and unique personality made a lasting impact, and his presence will be sorely missed.

After triumphing in both the NBA and NCAA, and winning the hearts of countless fans with his captivating energy and eccentricity during his illustrious 22-year career as a basketball analyst, Walton faced a courageous battle against cancer.

He was a towering figure, a giant among men, and quite possibly the greatest college player in history. During his impressive varsity career, UCLA boasted a remarkable record of 86-4, with an astounding winning streak of 73 games.

He was not just any player, but a dominant force in the NBA. Throughout his career, he played two distinctive roles on championship-winning teams, with a span of nine years between them. In 1977, he shone as a star player for the Portland Trail Blazers, while in 1986, he contributed as the sixth man for the Boston Celtics.

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What will stand out in my memory the most is the immense size of his heart.

In the spring of 2008, witness the remarkable tale of Walton as his body succumbed to the toll of 39 surgeries. During this time, he found himself confined to his injured back, spending entire days in contemplation of the unthinkable – suicide.

Bill was filled with a deep desire to inspire his son, Luke, who was playing for the Lakers during a highly intense postseason.

Before every series, he would call Luke and leave a message on his voicemail, pretending to be an opposing player and talking trash.

That’s correct.

In his initial four-minute address, he assumed the persona of Carmelo Anthony, vowing to defeat the Lakers.

In his second four-minute message, he took on the persona of Carlos Boozer and vowed to give the Lakers a beating.

Luke shared at the time that he had played the voice mails for his teammates and found them quite amusing.

When the Lakers made it to the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Walton reached out to his son once again. This time, he decided to play a little prank by pretending to be one of the Spurs stars. However, he quickly dropped the act and revealed his true identity.

Luke reminisced about a time when someone expressed their desire to emulate Tim Duncan’s style, but quickly realized that it was impossible because Tim Duncan never engaged in trash-talking.

Bill Walton expressed his love for Luke in a straightforward manner. Bill Walton had a unique way of loving, characterized by vibrant colors, intense gaze, and a contagious laughter that uplifted others. He enveloped people with his larger-than-life personality, perfectly complemented by his collection of loud and eccentric Grateful Dead T-shirts.

Watching Walton work the sidelines at a UCLA basketball game was even cooler than listening to his broadcast.

With a bony frame that appeared fragile, his handshake and back pats conveyed a surprising strength. Despite his towering height, he never condescended to others, effortlessly distributing compliments and words of encouragement just as he used to pass the ball out of the post.

Once, Walton proudly proclaimed to me, “Did you know I am the greatest writer in the history of journalism?” It was a statement he often made to many other writers he encountered.

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We were all the best – the fans, the media, the officials, and, yes, absolutely, the players.

According to the Athletic, Walton’s eccentric on-air statements were compiled by the Awful Announcing website, highlighting his unique perspective on even the most obscure athletes, whom he considers to be true stars.

There was a fascinating story that caught my attention recently. It revolved around a young girl named Emily who had a unique and extraordinary talent for playing the violin. Her passion for music was evident from a very young age, and she dedicated countless hours to perfecting her craft. Emily’s talent was undeniable, and she quickly became a prodigy in the world of classical music.

As Emily grew older, her talent continued to flourish, and she became a prominent figure in the music industry. She performed in prestigious concert halls around the world, captivating audiences with her breathtaking performances. Critics praised her for her exceptional skill, emotional depth, and the way she effortlessly connected with her audience through her music.

Despite her success, Emily remained humble and grounded. She believed that music had the power to bring people together and evoke powerful emotions. She used her talent to not only entertain but also to make a difference in the lives of others. Emily regularly performed at charity events, using her music to raise funds and awareness for various causes close to her heart.

One of the most remarkable moments in Emily’s career came when she was invited to perform at a small town community center. The center served as a safe haven for underprivileged children, offering them a place to learn and grow outside of school. The children who attended the center had faced many hardships and challenges in their young lives.

As Emily took the stage, the room fell silent in anticipation. The children watched in awe as she began to play her violin. The music filled the room, and it was as if time stood still. The children were transported to a different world, where their troubles seemed to fade away. They were inspired by Emily’s talent and passion, and they couldn’t help but dream big.

After her performance, Emily spent time talking to the children, listening to their stories, and offering words of encouragement. She shared her own journey and emphasized the importance of never giving up on their dreams. The impact she had on those children was immeasurable, and it was a moment that would stay with them forever.

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Emily’s story is a testament to the power of talent, passion, and the ability to make a difference. She used her gift for music to inspire and uplift others, leaving a lasting impact on those she encountered. Her journey reminds us that we all have unique talents and the potential to create a positive change in the world.

Fabricio Oberto is defying gravity, celebrating Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery.

And then, there was this incredibly fascinating story that caught my attention.

“If you think you can’t make a difference because you’re too small, you clearly haven’t experienced a night in bed with mosquitos or played basketball against Taylor from Utah. Taylor, also known as No. 11 in the program, is truly No. 1 in your heart.”

Walton not only sold hyperbole but also embodied it. He was known for his eccentric antics, such as rolling in the dirt, devouring a cupcake with the candle still ablaze, and even swapping his regular shirt for a Grateful Dead outfit.

He possessed an eccentric and unpredictable nature, which made him stand out. His vibrant and extraordinary personality captivated people’s attention. Moreover, his incredible athletic abilities only add to his legacy. However, it is his groundbreaking contributions as a broadcaster that will forever be etched in our memories.

However, what I admire most about him is his heart.

A few years back, I had the privilege of attending the annual California Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was a memorable event, made even more special by an encounter with none other than Walton himself. To my amazement, he took the time to interact with my awe-struck family and friends, unknowingly boosting my confidence for delivering my speech.

As you may already be aware, Walton faced a challenge with stuttering in the past. And, as some of you may also know, I have experienced similar difficulties. Throughout my adult life, I have drawn inspiration from the way Walton spoke with a combination of precision and confidence.

I never had the opportunity to express my gratitude to him for that. It seemed like he was always the one thanking me.

Bill Walton’s life philosophy is encapsulated in the title of an ESPN 2023 documentary about him.

I am known as “The Luckiest Guy in the World.”

Unfortunately, everything is incorrect.

We were fortunate.

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