SVP's One Big Thing: Shine on, Bill Walton

ByScott Van Pelt ESPN logo
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Sometimes the breadcrumbs are pretty clear, aren't they? The conference of champions said "that's a wrap." The Boston Celtics are playing a game coached by a member of the '86 title team and Bill Walton, linked in ways large and small to all, has passed away.

"A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through."

In every direction after this gut punch, the love for Walton was a blinding beam of light. I started pondering his life and it is amazing how many chapters of it could be their own standalone story.

His UCLA days seem a myth, a fish story. He really went 21-22 from the floor in an NCAA title game. His reverence for John Wooden was a torch he carried all his days. Walton's NBA tenure was decorated, certainly. Multiple rings -- very different tenures in Portland and then Boston. Had his body not broken down, who knows what he might have been? Arguably on the list of best big men of all-time.

He was undoubtedly on the list of world's tallest Deadheads. Big Red was easily spotted at shows around the world. Rick Carlisle shared the story Monday of Walton getting him tickets to see them not far from us in the Capital Center. He just sent Carlisle to the backdoor by the loading dock for passes. Carlisle was far from a Deadhead, but he needed a miracle. Walton was that miracle. Carlisle's date that night is now his wife.

The last act many of our younger viewers know and consumed is Bill the broadcaster. He was, to speak as he did, an intergalactic force of nature. We had him on once after an Oregon-UCLA game and he started talking about bears. Not the Cal Bears. But actual bears in Banff, British Columbia. He was roaring and growling. I just let him go. Not that I could have stopped him -- or wanted to do so.

His stream of consciousness that was the soundtrack of the sport was an on-ramp to his passions and his curiosities. The world, the people, the music, the food, the culture, the wildlife, the absolute joy of living this life and doing so with boundless energy and vigor. I admired that so. As I do the stories of his generosity -- they're everywhere today.

I read about the kindness he showed Mike Breen and his father. Pay attention to the details of how he listened when those in awe of simply being in his presence shared their stories with him. He remembered the details -- because he was interested. You know how rare that is for people who have been the center of everyone else's attention? To actually care enough to pay attention to anyone else. Bill did.

He closed his texts with "Shine on. Beam on." He was a spiritual shaman. And while our time runs out, because it's finite -- the universe is not. He went on a joyride through it all and now, anywhere there is light, I'll just assume that's Bill Walton bounding through the cosmos. Shine on, big fella. Thank you for your life. What a joy it was that it crossed paths with ours.

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