Bill Walton is a basketball legend. He led UCLA to 88 straight wins and two national titles. He was the number one draft pick of the Portland Trailblazers, led them to the NBA championship back in 1977 and was the most valuable player of the championship series that same year. He won another NBA title, this time with the Boston Celtics, in 1986. At 6’11”, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest basketball players in history. He was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team despite the fact that, in a career marred by injuries, he played a total of only 488 games while missing 680.
As fans and amateur athletes, we tend to put professional athletes up on a pedestal and wonder how cool it would be to live that life.
Be careful what you wish for.
Bill Walton has two fused ankles and has suffered through 36 surgeries in his 58 years. He had to give up his career as a basketball analyst because his back issues were so severe he not only couldn’t get on a plane, he couldn’t leave the house. For two years he basically was forced to live on the floor of his San Diego home, crawling to the bathroom and eating his meals there. The pain in his back was excruciating. “I wasn’t living,” he admits. “Every day was worse than the day before.”
It got so bad that he actually contemplated suicide.
But then came the miracle. Surgery number 36 helped to eliminate the nerve pain that was so debilitating and would just never go away. Bill Walton was able to leave the floor and live his life again. Gradually he started working out. Trips to the gym to swim and use light weights. Then it was time to dust off his bike, his favorite of all workouts, and get back on the road.
His feet are so bad that he can’t use cages or clip in pedals. He uses flat pedals that allow him to push down but not pull up. But Walton could care less . He just wants to be on his bike.
As you can imagine, at 6’11”, his bike is huge.
But the best part of it now? His smile is just as huge.
He joined the Challenged Athletes Foundation for their San Francisco to San Diego Million Dollar Challenge Bike Ride from October 16-October 22.
Seven days and 620 miles later, Bill Walton was as happy as he’s ever been. “I have my life back,” he says. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
During the ride that raised over $1.35 million dollars to help disabled athletes get the sports equipment they need to stay in the game of life, the weather was horrific. The rain came down in buckets and there was so much debris on the road that the group of 140 riders had north of 200 flat tires during their trip south. But not one of those riders who raised at least $10,000 each to be a part of the week ever complained. How could they? There were amputee athletes and paralyzed athletes riding the same roads under the same conditions and if they could suck it up and handle being soaked to the bone, so could everyone else.
Plus, there was a really tall guy who would come down to breakfast every single morning with a twinkle in his eye and that megawatt smile that lights up every room he enters and, no matter how horrific the conditions outside were, he’d simply lift his arms up over his head and say over and over and over again:
“I get to ride my bike today.”
What could be better than that?
For more Bill Walton….check out this classic interview we filmed at the iconic La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas to celebrate the release of Bill’s latest book: Back from the Dead.
I’ve interviewed thousands of athletes throughout the years, but as I’ve learned, when you “interview” the great Bill Walton, you really just sit back and let Bill go…..
“I Get To Ride My Bike Today” appears in my book: Never a Bad Day